Linking microbial community structure and microbial processes: An empirical and conceptual overview

FEMS Microbiology Ecology
By: , and 



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.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Linking microbial community structure and microbial processes: An empirical and conceptual overview
Series title FEMS Microbiology Ecology
DOI 10.1093/femsec/fiv113
Volume 91
Issue 10
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Federation of European Microbiological Societies
Publisher location Amsterdam
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center, John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis
Description Article fiv113; 11 p.
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N