• 16S rRNA gene;
  • bacterial diversity;
  • northern Gulf of Mexico;
  • stability;
  • beta diversity


A 2-year study was undertaken to compare patterns in the diversity of free-living bacteria in a river-dominated estuary and offshore, on the shelf, to determine whether changes in the free-living bacterial community could be related to differences in environmental seasonality and variability. Although the environmental conditions inshore were significantly more variable than those on the shelf and demonstrated clear seasonal patterns, there were no significant differences in the alpha diversity of the communities based on richness, evenness, or phylogenetic diversity. Comparison of communities using Bray–Curtis similarity indicated no significant differences in the magnitude of change between sequential samples from inshore and on the shelf. Seasonal differences were detected both inshore and on the shelf. However, analysis using the weighted UniFrac distance indicated significantly lower overall change between shelf samples with no significant seasonal differences. These findings suggest different patterns of change between the two sites. Inshore, changes in the relative abundance of distantly related bacterial species reflect the larger environmental variability, while on the shelf, changes in the relative abundance of closely related bacterial species or strains may result in a more functionally stable community. Thus, the magnitude of environmental change can alter patterns of bacterial diversity in marine systems.