Distributions of Virus-Like Particles and Prokaryotes within Microenvironments
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Microbial interactions are important for ecosystem function, but occur at the microscale and so are difficult to observe. Previous studies in marine systems have shown significant shifts in microbial community abundance and composition over scales of micrometres to centimetres. This study investigates the microscale abundance distributions of virus-like particles (VLPs) and prokaryotes in the lower reaches of a river to determine the extent to which microscale microbial patchiness exists in freshwater systems. Here we report local hotspots surrounded by gradients that reach a maximum 80 and 107 fold change in abundance over 0.9 cm for prokaryotic and VLP subpopulations. Changes in prokaryotic and VLP hotspots were tightly coupled. There were no gradients at tens of centimetres across the boundary layers, which is consistent with strong mixing and turbulence-driven aggregation found in river systems. Quantification of the patchiness shows a marked asymmetry with patches 10 times greater than background common, but depletions being rare or absent in most samples. This consistent asymmetry suggests that coldspots depleted by grazing and lysis are rapidly mixed to background concentrations, while the prevalence of hotspots indicates persistence against disruption. The hotspot to coldspot relative abundance may be useful for understanding microbial river dynamics. The patchiness indicates that the mean- field approach of bulk phase sampling misses the microbially relevant community variation and may underestimate the concentrations of these important microbial groups.
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