Combined niche and neutral effects in a microbial wastewater treatment community

Irina Dana Ofiţeru, Mary Lunn, Thomas P. Curtis, George F. Wells, Craig S. Criddle, Christopher A. Francis, William T. Sloan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

430 Scopus citations


It has long been assumed that differences in the relative abundance of taxa in microbial communities reflect differences in environmental conditions. Here we show that in the economically and environmentally important microbial communities in a wastewater treatment plant, the population dynamics are consistent with neutral community assembly, where chance and random immigration play an important and predictable role in shaping the communities. Using dynamic observations, we demonstrate a straightforward calibration of a purely neutral model and a parsimonious method to incorporate environmental influence on the reproduction (or birth) rate of individual taxa. The calibrated model parameters are biologically plausible, with the population turnover and diversity in the heterotrophic community being higher than for the ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and immigration into AOB community being relatively higher. When environmental factors were incorporated more of the variance in the observations could be explained but immigration and random reproduction and deaths remained the dominant driver in determining the relative abundance of the common taxa. Consequently we suggest that neutral community models should be the foundation of any description of an open biological system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15345-15350
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 31 2010


  • Assembly
  • Community
  • Microbial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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