Got pointed to this paper by automated Google Scholar searches that I have for many of the authors of the paper: Conditionally Rare Taxa Disproportionately Contribute to Temporal Changes in Microbial Diversity in mBio by Ashley Shade, Stuart E. Jones, J. Gregory Caporaso, Jo Handelsman, Rob Knight, Noah Fierer, and Jack A. Gilbert.
In the paper (which is, thankfully, fully Open Access) the authors use new informatics methods to look at what they call (conditionally rare taxa [CRT]). They report:
We discovered that CRT made up 1.5 to 28% of the community membership, represented a broad diversity of bacterial and archaeal lineages, and explained large amounts of temporal community dissimilarity (i.e., up to 97% of Bray-Curtis dissimilarity). Most of the CRT were detected at multiple time points, though we also identified “one-hit wonder” CRT that were observed at only one time point. Using a case study from a temperate lake, we gained additional insights into the ecology of CRT by comparing routine community time series to large disturbance events. Our results reveal that many rare taxa contribute a greater amount to microbial community dynamics than is apparent from their low proportional abundances. This observation was true across a wide range of ecosystems, indicating that these rare taxa are essential for understanding community changes over time.
This is very interesting. Having participated in a workshop that led to a report on “The Rare Biosphere” I think for many reasons we need much more work on rare microbes and whether and how they may be important. Kudos to the authors for tackling this issue. (Note – the full text of the paper is available in PDF but the HTML version does not seem to be working right now).