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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Functional Ecological Gene Networks to Reveal the Changes Among Microbial Interactions Under Elevated Carbon Dioxide Conditions


Biodiversity and its responses to environmental changes is a central issue in ecology, and for society. Almost all microbial biodiversity researches focus on species richness and abundance but ignore the interactions among different microbial species/populations. However, determining the interactions and their relationships to environmental changes in microbial communities is a grand challenge, primarily due to the lack of information on the network structure among different microbial species/populations. Here, a novel random matrix theory (RMT)-based conceptual framework for identifying functional ecological gene networks (fEGNs) is developed with the high throughput functional gene array hybridization data from the grassland microbial communities in a long-term FACE (Free Air CO2 Enrichment) experiment. Both fEGNs under elevated CO2 (eCO2) and ambient CO2 (aCO2) possessed general characteristics of many complex systems such as scale-free, small-world, modular and hierarchical. However, the topological structure of the fEGNs is distinctly different between eCO2 and aCO2, suggesting that eCO2 dramatically altered the interactions among different microbial functional groups/populations. In addition, the changes in network structure were significantly correlated with soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics, and plant productivity, indicating the potential importance of network interactions in ecosystem functioning. Elucidating network interactions in microbial communities and their responses to environmental changes are fundamentally important for research in microbial ecology, systems microbiology, and global change.

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