Microbial communities often exhibit incredible taxonomic diversity, raising questions regarding the mechanisms enabling species coexistence and the role of this diversity in community functioning. On the one hand, many coexisting but taxonomically distinct microorganisms can encode the same energy-yielding metabolic functions, and this functional redundancy contrasts with the expectation that species should occupy distinct metabolic niches. On the other hand, the identity of taxa encoding each function can vary substantially across space or time with little effect on the function, and this taxonomic variability is frequently thought to result from ecological drift between equivalent organisms. Here, we synthesize the powerful paradigm emerging from these two patterns, connecting the roles of function, functional redundancy and taxonomy in microbial systems. We conclude that both patterns are unlikely to be the result of ecological drift, but are inevitable emergent properties of open microbial systems resulting mainly from biotic interactions and environmental and spatial processes.
Reactive Fe(III) minerals can influence methane (CH4) emissions by inhibiting microbial methanogenesis or by stimulating anaerobic CH4 oxidation. The balance between Fe(III) reduction, methanogenesis, and CH4oxidation in ferruginous Archean and Paleoproterozoic oceans would have controlled CH4 fluxes to the atmosphere, thereby regulating the capacity for CH4 to warm the early Earth under the Faint Young Sun. We studied CH4 and Fe cycling in anoxic incubations of ferruginous sediment from the ancient ocean analogue Lake Matano, Indonesia, over three successive transfers (500 days in total). Iron reduction, methanogenesis, CH4 oxidation, and microbial taxonomy were monitored in treatments amended with ferrihydrite or goethite. After three dilutions, Fe(III) reduction persisted only in bottles with ferrihydrite. Enhanced CH4 production was observed in the presence of goethite, highlighting the potential for reactive Fe(III) oxides to inhibit methanogenesis. Supplementing the media with hydrogen, nickel and selenium did not stimulate methanogenesis. There was limited evidence for Fe(III)-dependent CH4 oxidation, although some incubations displayed CH4-stimulated Fe(III) reduction. 16S rRNA profiles continuously changed over the course of enrichment, with ultimate dominance of unclassified members of the order Desulfuromonadales in all treatments. Microbial diversity decreased markedly over the course of incubation, with subtle differences between ferrihydrite and goethite amendments. These results suggest that Fe(III) oxide mineralogy and availability of electron donors could have led to spatial separation of Fe(III)-reducing and methanogenic microbial communities in ferruginous marine sediments, potentially explaining the persistence of CH4 as a greenhouse gas throughout the first half of Earth history.