Key Laboratory of Tropical Marine Bioresources and Ecology and Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Applied Marine Biology, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou, China [Email] [Email]
Thermal effluents from nuclear power plants greatly change the environmental and ecological conditions of the receiving marine water body, but knowledge about their impact on microbial ecology is limited. Here we used high-throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene to examine marine bacterioplankton metacommunity assembly across thermal gradients in two representative seasons (i.e., winter and summer) in a subtropical bay located on the northern coast of the South China Sea. We found high heterogeneity in bacterioplankton community compositions (BCCs) across thermal gradients and between seasons. The spatially structured temperature gradient created by thermal effluents was the key determinant of BCCs, but its influence differed by season. Using a metacommunity approach, we found that in the thermal discharge area, i.e., where water is frequently exchanged with surrounding seawater and thermal effluent water, the BCC spatial patterns were shaped by species sorting rather than by mass effects from surrounding seawater or by dilution of thermal effluent water by surrounding seawater. However, this effect of species sorting was weaker in summer than in winter seawater. In both seasons, the bacterioplankton community structure was predominately determined by niche sharing; however, the relative importance of niche segregation was enhanced in summer seawater. Our findings suggest that for the seasonal differences in metacommunity processes, the BCCs of subtropical summer seawater were more sensitive to temperature and were more difficult to predict than those of winter seawater in the face of different intensities of thermal impacts.IMPORTANCE Understanding the mechanisms of bacterial community assembly across environmental gradients is one of the major goals of marine microbial ecology. Thermal effluents from two nuclear power plants have been present in the subtropical Daya Bay for more than 20 years and have generated a comparatively stable and long thermal gradient (a temperature increase from 0 to 10°C). The environmental patches across thermal gradients are heterogeneous and very strongly interconnected on a microbial scale; thus, this is a useful model for the study of the metacommunity processes (i.e., patch dynamics, species sorting, mass effects, and neutral processes) that underlie marine bacterioplankton assembly. The significance of our research is to reveal how environmental conditions and dispersal-related processes interact to influence bacterioplankton metacommunity processes and their seasonal differences across thermal gradients. Our results may advance the understanding of marine microbial ecology under future conditions of global warming.