Patterns of variation in diversity of the Mississippi river microbiome over 1,300 kilometers


We examined the downriver patterns of variation in taxonomic diversity of the Mississippi River bacterioplankton microbiome along 1,300 river kilometers, or approximately one third the total length of the river. The study section included portions of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Mississippi River, confluences with five tributaries draining distinct sub-basins, river cities, and extended stretches without major inputs to the Mississippi. The composition and proportional abundance of dominant bacterial phyla was distinct for free-living and particle-associated cells, and constant along the entire reach, except for a substantial but transient disturbance near the city of Memphis, Tennessee. At a finer scale of taxonomic resolution (operational taxonomic units, OTUs), however, there were notable patterns in downriver variation in bacterial community alpha diversity (richness within a site) and beta diversity (variation in composition among sites). There was a strong and steady increase downriver in alpha diversity of OTUs on suspended particles, suggesting an increase in particle niche heterogeneity, and/or particle colonization. Relatively large shifts in beta diversity of free-living and particle-associated communities occurred following major tributary confluences and transiently at Memphis, while in long stretches between these points diversity typically varied more gradually. We conclude that the Mississippi River possesses a bacterioplankton microbiome distinct in diversity from other large river microbiomes in the Mississippi River Basin, that at major river confluences or urban point sources its OTU diversity may shift abruptly and substantially, presumably by immigration of distinct external microbiomes, but that where environmental conditions are more stable along the downriver gradient, microbiome diversity tends to vary gradually, presumably by a process of successional change in community composition.