Chemical and microbial diversity covary in fresh water to influence ecosystem functioning

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Fitch, Amelia 
Orland, chloe 
Emilson, Erik JS 
Yakimovich, Kurt M 

Invisible to the naked eye lies a tremendous diversity of organic molecules and organisms that make major contributions to important biogeochemical cycles. However, how the diversity and composition of these two communities are inter-linked remains poorly characterised in freshwaters, despite the potential for chemical and microbial diversity to promote one another. Here we exploited gradients in chemodiversity within a common microbial pool to test how chemical and biological diversity covary and characterized the implications for ecosystem functioning. We found that both chemodiversity and genes associated with organic matter decomposition increased as more plant litterfall accumulated in experimental lake sediments, consistent with scenarios of future environmental change. Chemical and microbial diversity were also positively correlated, with dissolved organic matter having stronger effects on microbes than vice versa. Under our experimental scenarios that increased sediment organic matter from 5 to 25% or darkened overlying waters by 2.5-times, the resulting increases in chemodiversity could increase greenhouse gas concentrations in lake sediments by an average of 1.5- to 2.7-times, when all the other effects of litterfall and water color were considered. Our results open a major new avenue for research in aquatic ecosystems by exposing connections between chemical and microbial diversity and their implications for the global carbon cycle in greater detail than ever before.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of USA
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National Academy of Sciences
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Natural Environment Research Council (NE/L006561/1)
Funding came from a Natural Environment Research Council grant NE/L006561/1 to AJT and a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to AF.