Culturability of Stream Bacteria Assessed at the Assemblage and Population Levels

Publication Title

Microbial Ecology

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culturability, stream bacteria, assemblage, population




Lotic bacterial communities can be examined at multiple levels: from the assemblage level to populations of individual species. In stream environments, as in many other systems, the percentage of bacteria that are culturable is quite low. In this study, the culturability of the overall bacterial assemblage, as well as the culturability of three common species (Acinetobacter calcoaceticus,Burkholderia cepacia, and Pseudomonas putida), was determined in samples collected from four streams on three dates. Colony hybridization (colonies were grown on modified nutrient agar) and fluorescent in situ hybridization were used to calculate the percentage of cells of a given species that were culturable. Approximately half of the overall assemblage was estimated to be viable but nonculturable cells (VBNC). The culturability of two of the species was low (0.29% for A. calcoaceticus and 0.46% for P. putida), whereas the value for B. cepacia (2.48%) exceeded the overall assemblage level culturability (0.90%). Overall, both bacterial assemblages and populations were dominated by VBNC. These results show quantitatively that not all members of a species that has culturable representatives are culturable when retrieved from natural populations, likely because of interspecific phenotypic and genotypic variability. Thus, the large pool of nonculturable cells includes representatives of species that are, under some circumstances, culturable.