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Water entering lakes from the surrounding watershed often delivers large amounts of terrestrial-derived dissolved organic carbon (DOC) that can contribute to aquatic bacterial production. However, research suggests that phytoplankton-derived DOC is more labile than its terrestrial counterpart, owing to microbial processing of terrestrial-derived DOC along its flow path to surface waters. The ratio of water colour (absorbance at 440 nm) to chlorophyll a has been suggested as a simple measure of the relative contribution of terrestrial and aquatic primary production to aquatic secondary production. To explore the correlation between primary DOC source and the occurrence of bacterial taxonomic groups, we conducted a survey of bacterial 16S rRNA gene composition in 15 lakes positioned along a water colour : chlorophyll a gradient. Our goal was to identify bacterial taxa occurrence patterns along the colour : chlorophyll a gradient that may indicate a competitive advantage for bacterial taxa using terrestrial or aquatic carbon. We observed a large number of bacterial taxa occurrence patterns suggestive of carbon substrate niche partitioning, especially when relatively highly resolved taxonomic groups were considered. Our survey supports the hypothesis that bacterial taxa partition along a carbon substrate source gradient and highlights carbon source–bacterial interactions that should be explored further.