A Mini-review of Microbial Consortia: Their Roles in Aquatic Production and Biogeochemical Cycling

Microb Ecol. 1996 May;31(3):225-47. doi: 10.1007/BF00171569.


Molecular oxygen (O2) is a potent inhibitor of key microbial processes, including photosynthesis, N2 fixation, denitrification, sulfate reduction, methanogenesis, iron, and metal reduction reactions. Prokaryote survival and proliferation in aquatic environments is often controlled by the ability to tolerate exposure to oxic conditions. Many prokaryotes do not have subcellular organelles for isolating O2-producing from O2-consuming processes and have developed consortial associations with other prokaryotes and eukaryotes that alleviate metabolic constraints of high O2. Nutrient transformations often rely on appropriate cellular and microenvironmental, or microzonal, redox conditions. The spatial and temporal requirements for microenvironmental overlap among microbial groups involved in nutrient transformations necessitates close proximity and diffusional exchange with other biogeochemically distinct, yet complementary, microbial groups. Microbial consortia exist at different levels of community and metabolic complexity, as shown for detrital, microbial mat, biofilm, and planktonic microalgal-bacterial assemblages. To assess the macroscale impacts of consortial interactions, studies should focus on the range of relevant temporal (minutes to hours) and spatial (microns to centimeters) scales controlling microbial production, nutrient exchange, and cycling. In this review, we discuss the utility and application of techniques suitable for determining microscale consortial activity, production, community composition, and interactions in the context of larger scale aquatic ecosystem structure and function.