Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



CC OA: Song H-S, Stegen JC, Graham EB and Scheibe TD (2021) Historical Contingency in Microbial Resilience to Hydrologic Perturbations. Front. Water 3:590378. doi: 10.3389/frwa.2021.590378


Development of reliable biogeochemical models requires a mechanistic consideration of microbial interactions with hydrology. Microbial response to and its recovery after hydrologic perturbations (i.e., resilience) is a critical component to understand in this regard, but generally difficult to predict because the impacts of future events can be dependent on the history of perturbations (i.e., historical contingency). Fundamental issues underlying this phenomenon include how microbial resilience to hydrologic perturbations is influenced by historical contingency and how their relationships vary depending on the characteristics of microbial functions. To answer these questions, we considered a simple microbial community composed of two species that redundantly consume a common substrate but specialize in producing distinct products and developed a continuous flow reactor model where the two species grow with trade-offs along the flow rate. Simulations of this model revealed that (1) the history of hydrologic perturbations can lead to the shifts in microbial populations, which consequently affect the community’s functional dynamics, and (2) while historical contingency in resilience was consistently predicted for all microbial functions, it was more pronounced for specialized functions, compared to the redundant function. As a signature of historical contingency, our model also predicted the emergence of hysteresis in the transitions across conditions, a critical aspect that can affect transient formation of intermediate compounds in biogeochemistry. This work presents microbial growth traits and their functional redundancy or specialization as fundamental factors that control historical contingencies in resilience.