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  1. Abstract Background

    Annually reoccurring microbial populations with strong spatial and temporal variations have been identified in estuarine environments, especially in those with long residence time such as the Chesapeake Bay (CB). However, it is unclear how microbial taxa cooccurr and how the inter-taxa networks respond to the strong environmental gradients in the estuaries.

    Results

    Here, we constructed co-occurrence networks on prokaryotic microbial communities in the CB, which included seasonal samples from seven spatial stations along the salinity gradients for three consecutive years. Our results showed that spatiotemporal variations of planktonic microbiomes promoted differentiations of the characteristics and stability of prokaryotic microbial networks in the CB estuary. Prokaryotic microbial networks exhibited a clear seasonal pattern where microbes were more closely connected during warm season compared to the associations during cold season. In addition, microbial networks were more stable in the lower Bay (ocean side) than those in the upper Bay (freshwater side). Multivariate regression tree (MRT) analysis and piecewise structural equation modeling (SEM) indicated that temperature, salinity and total suspended substances along with nutrient availability, particulate carbon and Chla, affected the distribution and co-occurrence of microbial groups, such as Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Cyanobacteria, Planctomycetes, Proteobacteria, and Verrucomicrobia. Interestingly, compared to the abundant groups (such as SAR11, Saprospiraceae and Actinomarinaceae), the rare taxa including OM60 (NOR5) clade (Gammaproteobacteria), Micrococcales (Actinobacteria), and NS11-12 marine group (Bacteroidetes) contributed greatly to the stability of microbial co-occurrence in the Bay. Modularity and cluster structures of microbial networks varied spatiotemporally, which provided valuable insights into the ‘small world’ (a group of more interconnected species), network stability, and habitat partitioning/preferences.

    Conclusion

    Our results shed light on how estuarine gradients alter the spatiotemporal variations of prokaryotic microbial networks in the estuarine ecosystem, as well as their adaptability to environmental disturbances and co-occurrence network complexity and stability.

     
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