Linking microbial community structure and microbial processes: an empirical and conceptual overview.

FEMS microbiology ecology

PubMedID: 26371074

Bier RL, Bernhardt ES, Boot CM, Graham EB, Hall EK, Lennon JT, Nemergut D, Osborne BB, Ruiz-González C, Schimel JP, Waldrop MP, Wallenstein MD. Linking microbial community structure and microbial processes: an empirical and conceptual overview. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2015;.
A major goal of microbial ecology is to identify links between microbial community structure and microbial processes. Although this objective seems straightforward, there are conceptual and methodological challenges to designing studies that explicitly evaluate this link. Here, we analyzed literature documenting structure and process responses to manipulations to determine the frequency of structure-process links and whether experimental approaches and techniques influence link detection. We examined nine journals (published 2009-13) and retained 148 experimental studies measuring microbial community structure and processes. Many qualifying papers (112 of 148) documented structure and process responses, but few (38 of 112 papers) reported statistically testing for a link. Of these tested links, 75% were significant and typically used Spearman or Pearson's correlation analysis (68%). No particular approach for characterizing structure or processes was more likely to produce significant links. PROCESS
responses were detected earlier on average than responses in structure or both structure and process.Together, our findings suggest that few publications report statistically testing structure-process links. However, when links are tested for they often occur but share few commonalities in the processes or structures that were linked and the techniques used for measuring them.