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  • Microbial communities mediate the biogeochemical cycles that drive ecosystems, and it is important to understand how these communities are affected by changing environmental conditions, especially in complex coastal zones. As fresh and marine waters mix in estuaries and river plumes, the salinity, temperature, and nutrient gradients that are generated strongly influence bacterioplankton community structure, yet, a parallel change in functional diversity has not been described. Metagenomic and metatranscriptomic analyses were conducted on five water samples spanning the salinity gradient of the Columbia River coastal margin, including river, estuary, plume, and ocean, in August 2010. Samples were pre-filtered through 3 μm filters and collected on 0.2 μm filters, thus results were focused on changes among free-living microbial communities. Results from metagenomic 16S rRNA sequences showed taxonomically distinct bacterial communities in river, estuary, and coastal ocean. Despite the strong salinity gradient observed over sampling locations (0 to 33), the functional gene profiles in the metagenomes were very similar from river to ocean with an average similarity of 82%. The metatranscriptomes, however, had an average similarity of 31%. Although differences were few among the metagenomes, we observed a change from river to ocean in the abundance of genes encoding for catabolic pathways, osmoregulators, and metal transporters. Additionally, genes specifying both bacterial oxygenic and anoxygenic photosynthesis were abundant and expressed in the estuary and plume. Denitrification genes were found throughout the Columbia River coastal margin, and most highly expressed in the estuary. Across a river to ocean gradient, the free-living microbial community followed three different patterns of diversity: 1) the taxonomy of the community changed strongly with salinity, 2) metabolic potential was highly similar across samples, with few differences in functional gene abundance from river to ocean, and 3) gene expression was highly variable and generally was independent of changes in salinity.
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