Microbial biogeography through the lens of exotic species: the recent introduction and spread of the freshwater diatom Discostella asterocostata in the United States

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Biological Invasions


The large population sizes and high dispersal potential of microbes suggests that a given microbial species should be found in all suitable habitats worldwide. Consequently, microbes should not exhibit the kinds of biogeographic patterns seen in macroorganisms. This paradigm is challenged by a growing list of exotic microbes with biogeographic disjunctions that instead promotes microbial dispersal as inherently limited. We sampled water bodies in the United States and compiled records from the literature and public databases to characterize the distribution of the freshwater planktonic diatom, Discostella asterocostata (Xie, Lin, and Cai) Houk and Klee. Discostella asterocostata was thought to be restricted to the Far East, but we report its presence in ecologically similar water bodies across the eastern United States. Populations from the U.S. and China are indistinguishable morphometrically, suggesting they may be recently separated—a hypothesis supported by paleolimnological data, which support an introduction of D. asterocostata into the U.S. as recently as the mid-1980s. The overlapping distributions of D. asterocostata and invasive carp species, in both their native and nonnative ranges, highlighted Asian carp as a possible vector for introduction of the diatom in the U.S. The existence of exotic diatoms underscores natural constraints on microbial dispersal, resulting in biogeographic distributions that can be upended through human activity.


Biological and Environmental Sciences

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