The more, the merrier: heterotroph richness stimulates methanotrophic activity
Although microorganisms coexist in the same environment, it is still unclear how their interaction regulates ecosystem functioning. Using a methanotroph as a model microorganism, we determined how methane oxidation responds to heterotroph diversity. Artificial communities comprising of a methanotroph and increasing heterotroph richness, while holding equal starting cell numbers were assembled. We considered methane oxidation rate as a functional response variable. Our results showed a significant increase of methane oxidation with increasing heterotroph richness, suggesting a complex interaction in the cocultures leading to a stimulation of methanotrophic activity. Therefore, not only is the methanotroph diversity directly correlated to methanotrophic activity for some methanotroph groups as shown before, but also the richness of heterotroph interacting partners is relevant to enhance methane oxidation too. In this unprecedented study, we provide direct evidence showing how heterotroph richness exerts a response in methanotroph-heterotroph interaction, resulting in increased methanotrophic activity. Our study has broad implications in how methanotroph and heterotroph interact to regulate methane oxidation, and is particularly relevant in methane-driven ecosystems.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 2 May 2014; doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.74.