Biogeographic patterns in members of globally distributed and dominant taxa found in port microbial communities

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Department of Biological Sciences


We conducted a global characterization of the microbial communities of shipping ports to serve as a novel system to investigate microbial biogeography. The community structures of port microbes from marine and freshwater habitats house relatively similar phyla, despite spanning large spatial scales. As part of this project, we collected 1,218 surface water samples from 604 locations across eight countries and three continents to catalogue a total of 20 shipping ports distributed across the East and West Coast of the United States, Europe, and Asia to represent the largest study of port-associated microbial communities to date. Here, we demonstrated the utility of machine learning to leverage this robust system to characterize microbial biogeography by identifying trends in biodiversity across broad spatial scales. We found that for geographic locations sharing similar environmental conditions, subpopulations from the dominant phyla of these habitats (Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Cyanobacteria, and Proteobacteria) can be used to differentiate 20 geographic locations distributed globally. These results suggest that despite the overwhelming diversity within microbial communities, members of the most abundant and ubiquitous microbial groups in the system can be used to differentiate a geospatial location across global spatial scales. Our study provides insight into how microbes are dispersed spatially and robust methods whereby we can interrogate microbial biogeography.

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© 2020 Ghannam et al. Publisher’s version of record:

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