1. Shifts in bacterial community composition along temporal and spatial temperature gradients occur in a wide range of habitats and have potentially important implications for ecosystem functioning. However, it is often challenging to empirically link an adaptation or acclimation that defines environmental niche or biogeography with a quantifiable phenotype, especially in micro-organisms.
2. Here we evaluate a possible mechanistic explanation for shifts in bacterioplankton community composition in response to temperature by testing a previously hypothesized membrane mediated trade-off between resource acquisition and respiratory costs.
3. We isolated two strains of Flavobacterium sp. at two temperatures (cold isolate and warm isolate) from the epilimnion of a small temperate lake in North Central Minnesota.
4. Compared with the cold isolate the warm isolate had higher growth rate, higher carrying capacity, lower lag time and lower respiration at the high temperature and lower phosphorus uptake at the low temperature. We also observed significant differences in membrane lipid composition between isolates and between environments that were consistent with adjustments necessary to maintain membrane fluidity at different temperatures.
5. Our results suggest that temperature acclimation in planktonic bacteria is, in part, a resource-dependent membrane-facilitated phenomenon. This study provides an explicit example of how a quantifiable phenotype can be linked through physiology to competitive ability and environmental niche.