Community structural differences shape microbial responses to high molecular weight organic matter

John Paul Balmonte, Andrew Buckley, Adrienne Hoarfrost, Sherif Ghobrial, Kai Ziervogel, Andreas Teske, Carol Arnosti

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The extent to which differences in microbial community structure result in variations in organic matter (OM) degradation is not well understood. Here, we tested the hypothesis that distinct marine microbial communities from North Atlantic surface and bottom waters would exhibit varying compositional succession and functional shifts in response to the same pool of complex high molecular weight (HMW-OM). We also hypothesized that microbial communities would produce a broader spectrum of enzymes upon exposure to HMW-OM, indicating a greater potential to degrade these compounds than reflected by initial enzymatic activities. Our results show that community succession in amended mesocosms was congruent with cell growth, increased bacterial production and most notably, with substantial shifts in enzymatic activities. In all amended mesocosms, closely related taxa that were initially rare became dominant at time frames during which a broader spectrum of active enzymes were detected compared to initial timepoints, indicating a similar response among different communities. However, succession on the whole-community level, and the rates, spectra and progression of enzymatic activities, reveal robust differences among distinct communities from discrete water masses. These results underscore the crucial role of rare bacterial taxa in ocean carbon cycling and the importance of bacterial community structure for HMW-OM degradation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)557-571
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


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