An improved method to set significance thresholds forβdiversity testing in microbial community comparisons: Setting significance threshold forβdiversity

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Abstract

Exploring the variation in microbial community diversity between locations (β diversity) is a central topic in microbial ecology. Currently, there is no consensus on how to set the significance threshold for β diversity. Here, we describe and quantify the technical components of β diversity, including those associated with the process of subsampling. These components exist for any proposed β diversity measurement procedure. Further, we introduce a strategy to set significance thresholds for β diversity of any group of microbial samples using rarefaction, invoking the notion of a meta-community. The proposed technique was applied to several in silico generated operational taxonomic unit (OTU) libraries and experimental 16S rRNA pyrosequencing libraries. The latter represented microbial communities from different biological rapid sand filters at a full-scale waterworks. We observe that β diversity, after subsampling, is inflated by intra-sample differences; this inflation is avoided in the proposed method. In addition, microbial community evenness (Gini > 0.08) strongly affects all β diversity estimations due to bias associated with rarefaction. Where published methods to test β significance often fail, the proposed meta-community-based estimator is more successful at rejecting insignificant β diversity values. Applying our approach, we reveal the heterogeneous microbial structure of biological rapid sand filters both within and across filters.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Volume17
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)3154-3167
Number of pages14
ISSN1462-2912
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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