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We studied in detail the reproducibility of community development in replicate nutrient cycling microbial microcosms that were set up identically and allowed to develop under the same environmental conditions. Multiple replicate closed microcosms were constructed using pond sediment and water, enriched with cellulose and sulphate, and allowed to develop over several months under constant environmental conditions, after which their microbial communities were characterised using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Our results show that initially similar microbial communities can follow alternative - yet stable - trajectories, diverging in time in a system size-dependent manner. The divergence between replicate communities increased in time and decreased with larger system size. In particular, notable differences emerged in the heterotrophic degrader communities in our microcosms; one group of steady state communities was enriched with Firmicutes, while the other was enriched with Bacteroidetes. The communities dominated by these two phyla also contained distinct populations of sulphate-reducing bacteria. This biomodality in community composition appeared to arise during recovery from a low-diversity state that followed initial cellulose degradation and sulphate reduction.
- microbial communities
- microbial ecology
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