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Differential Response of Bacterial Microdiversity to Simulated Global Change.


Global change experiments often observe shifts in bacterial community composition based on 16S rRNA gene sequences. However, this genetic region can mask a large amount of genetic and phenotypic variation among bacterial strains sharing even identical 16S regions. As such, it remains largely unknown whether variation at the sub-16S level, sometimes termed microdiversity, responds to environmental perturbations and whether such changes are relevant to ecosystem processes. Here, we investigated microdiversity within Curtobacterium, the dominant bacterium found in the leaf litter layer of soil, to simulated drought and nitrogen addition in a field experiment. We first developed and validated Curtobacterium-specific primers of the groEL gene to assess microdiversity within this lineage. We then tracked the response of this microdiversity to simulated global change in two adjacent plant communities, grassland and coastal sage scrub (CSS). Curtobacterium microdiversity responded to drought but not nitrogen addition, indicating variation within the genus of drought tolerance but not nitrogen response. Further, the response of microdiversity to drought depended on the ecosystem, suggesting that litter substrate selects for a distinct composition of microdiversity that is constrained in its response, perhaps related to tradeoffs in resource acquisition traits. Supporting this interpretation, a metagenomic analysis revealed that the composition of Curtobacterium-encoded carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes) varied distinctly across the two ecosystems. Identifying the degree to which relevant traits are phylogenetically conserved may help to predict when the aggregated response of a 16S-defined taxon masks differential responses of finer-scale bacterial diversity to global change. IMPORTANCE Microbial communities play an integral role in global biogeochemical cycling, but our understanding of how global change will affect microbial community structure and functioning remains limited. Microbiome analyses typically aggregate large amounts of genetic diversity which may obscure finer variation in traits. This study found that fine-scale diversity (or microdiversity) within the bacterial genus Curtobacterium was affected by simulated global changes. However, the degree to which this was true depended on the type of global change, as the composition of Curtobacterium microdiversity was affected by drought, but not by nitrogen addition. Further, these changes were associated with variation in carbon degradation traits. Future work might improve predictions of microbial community responses to global change by considering microdiversity.

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