Beach sand oil spills select for generalist microbial populations

Patrick Heritier-Robbins, Smruthi Karthikeyan, Janet K. Hatt, Minjae Kim, Markus Huettel, Joel E. Kostka, Konstantinos T. Konstantinidis, Luis M. Rodriguez-R

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The specialization-disturbance hypothesis predicts that, in the event of a disturbance, generalists are favored, while specialists are selected against. This hypothesis has not been rigorously tested in microbial systems and it remains unclear to what extent it could explain microbial community succession patterns following perturbations. Previous field observations of Pensacola Beach sands that were impacted by the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill provided evidence in support of the specialization-disturbance hypothesis. However, ecological drift as well as uncounted environmental fluctuations (e.g., storms) could not be ruled out as confounding factors driving these field results. In this study, the specialization-disturbance hypothesis was tested on beach sands, disturbed by DWH crude oil, ex situ in closed laboratory advective-flow chambers that mimic in situ conditions in saturated beach sediments. The chambers were inoculated with weathered DWH oil and unamended chambers served as controls. The time series of shotgun metagenomic and 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequence data from a two-month long incubation showed that functional diversity significantly increased while taxonomic diversity significantly declined, indicating a decrease in specialist taxa. Thus, results from this laboratory study corroborate field observations, providing verification that the specialization-disturbance hypothesis can explain microbial succession patterns in crude oil impacted beach sands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3418-3422
Number of pages5
JournalISME Journal
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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