Chronic environmental perturbation influences microbial community assembly patterns

Lloyd Douglas Potts, Alex Douglas, Luis Jose Perez Calderon, Ursula Witte, James Prosser, Cecile Gubry-Rangin* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Acute environmental perturbations are reported to induce deterministic microbial community assembly, while it is hypothesised that chronic perturbations promote development of alternative stable states. Such acute or chronic perturbations strongly impact on the pre21 adaptation capacity to the perturbation. To determine the importance of the level of microbial pre-adaptation and the community assembly processes following acute or chronic perturbations in the context of hydrocarbon contamination, a model system of pristine and polluted (hydrocarbon-contaminated) sediments were incubated in the absence or presence (discrete or repeated) of hydrocarbon amendment. Community structure of the pristine sediments changed significantly following acute perturbation, with selection of different phylotypes not initially detectable. Conversely, historically polluted sediments maintained initial community structure and the historical legacy effect of chronic pollution likely facilitated community stability. An alternative stable state was also reached in the pristine sediments following chronic perturbation, further demonstrating the existence of a legacy effect. Finally, ecosystem functional resilience was demonstrated through occurrence of hydrocarbon degradation by different communities in the tested sites, but the legacy effect of perturbation also strongly influenced the biotic response. This study therefore demonstrates the importance of perturbation chronicity on microbial community assembly processes and reveals ecosystem functional resilience following environmental perturbation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2300-2311
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number4
Early online date1 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note


Next-generation sequencing and library construction was performed by NCIMB Ltd., Aberdeen and CGEBM, Aberdeen. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Maxwell computer cluster funded by the University of Aberdeen. Dr Axel Aigle is acknowledged for assistance in molecular analysis. This work was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council [NE/L00982X/1] with financial support from BP UK Ltd and Intertek Group PLC. CGR was supported by a University Research Fellowship from the Royal Society [UF150571]

Data Availability Statement

The Supporting Information is available free of charge at


  • deterministic community assembly
  • bacteria
  • ecosystem functional resilience
  • dispersion
  • Diversity
  • diversity
  • hydrocarbon degradation
  • Microbiota
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Pollution
  • Hydrocarbons/metabolism


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