by Mari.-K. H. Winkler, Pieter Boets, Birk Hahne, Peter Goethals, Eveline I. P. VolckeThe conditions present in both in vitro and in vivo ecosystems determine the microbial population harbouring it. One commonly accepted theory is that a species with a high substrate affinity and low growth rate (k-strategist) will win the competition against a second species with a lower substrate affinity and higher growth rate (r-strategist) if both species are subjected to low substrate concentrations. In this study two nitrite oxidizing bacteria (NOB), Nitrospira defluvii (k-strategist) and Nitrobacter vulgaris (r-strategist), were cultivated in a continuous reactor systems. The minimal hydraulic retention time (HRT) required for maintaining the slower growing Nitrospira was first determined. A reactor containing Nitrobacter was set to the same HRT and Nitrospira was injected to evaluate the effect of the dilution rate on the competition between both species. By following the microbial population dynamics with qPCR analysis, it was shown that not only the substrate affinity drives the competition between k- and r-strategists but also the dilution rate. Experimental data and numerical simulations both revealed that the washout of Nitrobacter was significantly delayed at dilution rates close to the μmax of Nitrospira. The competition could be even reverted towards Nitrobacter (r-strategist) despite of low nitrite concentrations and dilution rates lower than the μmax of Nitrospira.
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