The importance of neutral and niche processes for bacterial community assembly differs between habitat generalists and specialists

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The mechanisms of community assembly are a central focus in the field of microbial ecology. However, to what extent these mechanisms differ in importance by traits of groups is poorly understood. Here we quantified the importance of neutral and niche processes in community assembly for bacteria, habitat specialists and generalists in 21 plateau lakes of China. Results showed that both neutral and niche processes played a critical role in the assembly of entire bacterial communities, shaping a unique biogeographical pattern. A few habitat generalists and many specialists were identified. Interestingly, habitat specialists were only governed by niche process, with seven significant environmental variables—salinity, dissolved oxygen, water transparency, total phosphorus, ammonium-nitrogen, temperature and total nitrogen—independently explaining 40.3% of the biological variation. By contrast, habitat generalists were strongly driven by neutral process, with 50.9% of the variation of detection frequency explained in neutral community model. Only three environmental variables—salinity, total nitrogen and dissolved oxygen—significantly affected the distribution of habitat generalists, independently explaining 13.6% of the variation. Governed by different assembly mechanisms, habitat specialists and generalists presented disparate biogeographical patterns. Our result emphasizes the importance of investigating the bacterial community assembly at more refined levels than entire communities.

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