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Microbial Community Succession and Nutrient Cycling Responses following Perturbations of Experimental Saltwater Aquaria


Although aquaria are common features of homes and other buildings, little is known about how environmental perturbations (i.e., tank cleaning, water changes, addition of habitat features) impact the diversity and succession of aquarium microbial communities. In this study, we sought to evaluate the hypotheses that newly established aquaria show clear microbial successional patterns over time and that common marine aquarium-conditioning practices, such as the addition of ocean-derived "live rocks" (defined as any "dead coral skeleton covered with crustose coralline algae" transferred into an aquarium from open ocean habitats) impact the diversity of microbial populations as well as nitrogen cycling in aquaria. We collected water chemistry data alongside water and sediment samples from two independent and newly established saltwater aquaria over a 3-month period. Microbial communities in samples were assessed by DNA extraction, amplification of the 16S rRNA gene, and Illumina MiSeq sequencing. Our results showed clear and replicable patterns of community succession in both aquaria, with the existence of multiple stable states for aquarium microbial assemblages. Notably, our results show that changes in aquarium microbial communities do not always correlate with water chemistry measurements and that operational taxonomic unit (OTU)-level patterns relevant to nitrogen cycling were not reported as statistically significant. Overall, our results demonstrate that aquarium perturbations have a substantial impact on microbial community profiles of aquarium water and sediment and that the addition of live rocks improves nutrient cycling by shifting aquarium communities toward a more typical saltwater assemblage of microbial taxa.IMPORTANCE Saltwater aquaria are living systems that support a complex biological community of fish, invertebrates, and microbes. The health and maintenance of saltwater tanks are pressing concerns for home hobbyists, zoos, and professionals in the aquarium trade; however, we do not yet understand the underlying microbial species interactions and community dynamics which contribute to tank setup and conditioning. This report provides a detailed view of ecological succession and changes in microbial community assemblages in two saltwater aquaria which were sampled over a 3-month period, from initial tank setup and conditioning with "live rocks" through subsequent tank cleanings and water replacement. Our results showed that microbial succession appeared to be consistent and replicable across both aquaria. However, changes in microbial communities did not always correlate with water chemistry measurements, and aquarium microbial communities appear to have shifted among multiple stable states without any obvious buildup of undesirable nitrogen compounds in the tank environment.

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