Structure and function of zooplankton-associated bacterial communities in a temperate estuary change more with time than with zooplankton species

SL Bickel, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
KW Tang, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
HP Grossart


Zooplankton support distinct bacterial communities in high concentrations relative to the surrounding water, but little is known about how the compositions and functionalities of these bacterial communities change through time in relation to environmental conditions. We conducted a year-long field study of bacterial communities associated with common zooplankton groups as well as free-living bacterial communities in the York River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay. Bacterial community genetic fingerprints and their carbon substrate usage were examined by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of amplified 16S rDNA and by Biolog EcoPlates, respectively. Zooplankton-associated communities were genetically distinct from free-living bacterial communities but utilized a similar array of carbon substrates. On average, bacteria associated with different zooplankton groups were genetically more similar to each other within each month (65.4% similarity) than to bacterial communities of the same zooplankton group from different months (28 to 30% similarity), which suggests the importance of ambient environmental conditions in shaping resident zooplankton-associated bacterial communities. Monthly changes in carbon substrate utilization were less variable for zooplankton-associated bacteria than for free-living bacteria, suggesting that the zooplankton microhabitat is more stable than the surrounding water and supports specific bacterial groups in the otherwise unfavorable conditions in the water column.