Modelling the effects of dispersal mechanisms and hydrodynamic regimes upon the structure of microbial communities within fluvial biofilms


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The spatial distribution of microbial taxa is determined primarily by physical and chemical environments and by dispersal. In a homogeneous landscape with limited dispersal, the similarity in abundance of taxa in samples declines with separation distance. We present a one-dimensional model for the spatial autocorrelation in abundances arising from immigration from some remote community and dispersal between environmentally similar landscape patches. Spatial correlation in taxa abundances were calculated from biofilms from the beds of two flumes which differed only in their bedform profiles; one flat and the other a periodic sawtooth shape. The hydraulic regime is approximately uniform over the flat bed, whereas the sawtooth induces fast flow over the peaks and recirculation in the troughs. On the flat bed, the correlation decline between samples was reproduced by a model using one biologically reasonable parameter. A decline was apparent in the other flume; however, a better fit was achieved when dispersal was not assumed constant everywhere. However, analysis of finer-resolution data for the heterogeneous flume suggested even this model did not adequately capture the community's complexity. We conclude that hydrodynamics are a strong driver of taxa-abundance patterns in stream biofilms. However, local adaptability must also be considered to build up a complete mechanistic model.