High-throughput amplicon sequencing and stream benthic bacteria: Identifying the best taxonomic level for multiple-stressor research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Disentangling the individual and interactive effects of multiple stressors on microbial communities is a key challenge to our understanding and management of ecosystems. Advances in molecular techniques allow studying microbial communities in situ and with high taxonomic resolution. However, the taxonomic level which provides the best trade-off between our ability to detect multiple-stressor effects versus the goal of studying entire communities remains unknown. We used outdoor mesocosms simulating small streams to investigate the effects of four agricultural stressors (nutrient enrichment, the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide (DCD), fine sediment and flow velocity reduction) on stream bacteria (phyla, orders, genera, and species represented by Operational Taxonomic Units with 97% sequence similarity). Community composition was assessed using amplicon sequencing (16S rRNA gene, V3-V4 region). DCD was the most pervasive stressor, affecting evenness and most abundant taxa, followed by sediment and flow velocity. Stressor pervasiveness was similar across taxonomic levels and lower levels did not perform better in detecting stressor effects. Community coverage decreased from 96% of all sequences for abundant phyla to 28% for species. Order-level responses were generally representative of responses of corresponding genera and species, suggesting that this level may represent the best compromise between stressor sensitivity and coverage of bacterial communities.


  • R. K. Salis
  • A. Bruder
  • J. J. Piggott
  • T. C. Summerfield
  • C. D. Matthaei
External organisations
  • University of Otago
  • Trinity College Dublin
Original languageEnglish
Article number44657
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar 22
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes