The elemental content of microbial communities is dependent upon the physiology of constituent populations, yet ecological stoichiometry has made slow progress toward identifying predictors of how species and strains change the elemental content of their biomass in response to the stoichiometry of elements in resources. We asked whether the elemental content of aquatic bacteria, especially flexibility in elemental content, could be predicted by their phylogeny, maximum growth rate or lake productivity. We examined 137 isolates using chemostats and found that strains differed substantially in how the carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus ratios (C:N:P) in their biomass responded to P-sufficient and P-limiting conditions. The median strain increased its biomass C:N:P from 68:14:1 to 164:25:1 under P limitation. Patterns in elemental content and ratios were partly explained by phylogeny, yet flexibility in elemental content showed no phylogenetic signal. The growth rate hypothesis predicts that P content is positively related to growth rate, but we found weak correlation between maximum growth rate and P content among the strains. Overall, isolates from highly productive lakes had higher maximum growth rates and less flexible biomass N:P than isolates from unproductive lakes. These results show that bacteria present within lake communities exhibit diverse strategies for responding to elemental imbalance.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by NSF-IOS award 1257571 to JBC. Andrea Little, Emily Whitaker, Chandra Dahlke, Maddy Jackson and Cole Spencer helped to run the experiment.