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Summary

Patterns of taxa abundance distributions are the result of the combined effects of historical and biological processes and as such are central to ecology. It is accepted that a taxa abundance distribution for a given community of animals or plants following a perturbation will typically change in structure from one of high evenness to increasing dominance. Subsequently, such changes in evenness have been used as indicators of biological integrity and environmental assessment. Here, using replicated experimental treehole microcosms perturbed with different concentrations of the pollutant pentachlorophenol, we investigated whether changes in bacterial community structure would reflect the effects of anthropogenic stress in a similar manner to larger organisms. Community structure was visualized using rank–abundance plots fitted with linear regression models. The slopes of the regression models were used as a descriptive statistic of changes in evenness over time. Our findings showed that bacterial community structure reflected the impact and the recovery from an anthropogenic disturbance. In addition, the intensity of impact and the rate of recovery to pre-perturbation structure were dose-dependent. These properties of bacterial community structures may potentially provide a metric for environmental assessment and regulation.