Introduction

I am a research scientist and associate director of the Institute for Environmental Genomics (IEG), and also affiliated with the Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology in the University of Oklahoma (OU). I obtained Bachelor and Ph.D. degree in Environmental Science and Engineering in 2003 and 2009 at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. Then, I joined IEG as a postdoctoral research associate in 2012 and became a research scientist since 2016. My current focus is microbial ecology, particularly mathematical ecology and community assembly mechanisms, in environmental engineering and in response to global changes. My recent representative products include quantitative frameworks for community assembly mechanism research and global biodiversity of wastewater microbiome, published in Nature Communications, PNAS, and Nature Microbiology. Till Mar 21, 2024, I have published 95 peer-reviewed papers, which have been cited over 8,344 times by scientists from 112 countries. I am serving as a responsible editor for a SCI journal, Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering, and was a topic editor for Frontiers in Microbiology. I am currently a co-PI of two NSF collaborative projects, and won OU’s Annual Award for Excellence in Research Grants in 2020 and 2021.

My up-to-date calendar (US Central Time)

Representative products

Environmental stress mediates groundwater microbial community assembly

Daliang Ning, Yajiao Wang, Yupeng Fan, Jianjun Wang, Joy D. Van Nostrand, Liyou Wu, Ping Zhang, Daniel J. Curtis, Renmao Tian, Lauren Lui, Terry C. Hazen, Eric J. Alm, Matthew W. Fields, Farris Poole, Michael W. W. Adams, Romy Chakraborty, David A. Stahl, Paul D. Adams, Adam P. Arkin, Zhili He, and Jizhong Zhou

Nature Microbiology 2024

Community assembly describes how different ecological processes shape microbial community composition and structure. How environmental factors impact community assembly remains elusive. Here we sampled microbial communities and >200 biogeochemical variables in groundwater at the Oak Ridge Field Research Center, a former nuclear waste disposal site, and developed a theoretical framework to conceptualize the relationships between community assembly processes and environmental stresses. We found that stochastic assembly processes were critical (>60% on average) in shaping community structure, but their relative importance decreased as stress increased. Dispersal limitation and ‘drift’ related to random birth and death had negative correlations with stresses, whereas the selection processes leading to dissimilar communities increased with stresses, primarily related to pH, cobalt and molybdenum. Assembly mechanisms also varied greatly among different phylogenetic groups. Our findings highlight the importance of microbial dispersal limitation and environmental heterogeneity in ecosystem restoration and management.

A quantitative framework reveals ecological drivers of grassland microbial community assembly in response to warming

Daliang Ning, Mengting Yuan, Linwei Wu, Ya Zhang, Xue Guo, Xishu Zhou, Yunfeng Yang, Adam P. Arkin, Mary K. Firestone & Jizhong Zhou

Nature Communications 2020

Unraveling the drivers controlling community assembly is a central issue in ecology. Although it is generally accepted that selection, dispersal, diversification and drift are major community assembly processes, defining their relative importance is very challenging. Here, we present a framework to quantitatively infer community assembly mechanisms by phylogenetic bin-based null model analysis (iCAMP). iCAMP shows high accuracy (0.93–0.99), precision (0.80–0.94), sensitivity (0.82–0.94), and specificity (0.95–0.98) on simulated communities, which are 10–160% higher than those from the entire community-based approach. Application of iCAMP to grassland microbial communities in response to experimental warming reveals dominant roles of homogeneous selection (38%) and ‘drift’ (59%). Interestingly, warming decreases ‘drift’ over time, and enhances homogeneous selection which is primarily imposed on Bacillales. In addition, homogeneous selection has higher correlations with drought and plant productivity under warming than control. iCAMP provides an effective and robust tool to quantify microbial assembly processes, and should also be useful for plant and animal ecology.

A general framework for quantitatively assessing ecological stochasticity

Daliang Ning, Ye Deng, James M. Tiedje, Jizhong Zhou

PNAS 2019

Understanding the community assembly mechanisms controlling biodiversity patterns is a central issue in ecology. Although it is generally accepted that both deterministic and stochastic processes play important roles in community assembly, quantifying their relative importance is challenging. Here we propose a general mathematical framework to quantify ecological stochasticity under different situations in which deterministic factors drive the communities more similar or dissimilar than null expectation. An index, normalized stochasticity ratio (NST), was developed with 50% as the boundary point between more deterministic (<50%) and more stochastic (>50%) assembly. NST was tested with simulated communities by considering abiotic filtering, competition, environmental noise, and spatial scales. All tested approaches showed limited performance at large spatial scales or under very high environmental noise. However, in all of the other simulated scenarios, NST showed high accuracy (0.90 to 1.00) and precision (0.91 to 0.99), with averages of 0.37 higher accuracy (0.1 to 0.7) and 0.33 higher precision (0.0 to 1.8) than previous approaches. NST was also applied to estimate stochasticity in the succession of a groundwater microbial community in response to organic carbon (vegetable oil) injection. Our results showed that community assembly was shifted from more deterministic (NST = 21%) to more stochastic (NST = 70%) right after organic carbon input. As the vegetable oil was consumed, the community gradually returned to be more deterministic (NST = 27%). In addition, our results demonstrated that null model algorithms and community similarity metrics had strong effects on quantifying ecological stochasticity.

Global diversity and biogeography of bacterial communities in wastewater treatment plants

Linwei Wu, Daliang Ning, Bing Zhang, Yong Li, Ping Zhang, Xiaoyu Shan, Qiuting Zhang, Mathew Robert Brown, Zhenxin Li, Joy D. Van Nostrand, Fangqiong Ling, Naijia Xiao, Ya Zhang, Julia Vierheilig, George F. Wells, Yunfeng Yang, Ye Deng, Qichao Tu, Aijie Wang, Global Water Microbiome Consortium, Tong Zhang, Zhili He, Jurg Keller, Per H. Nielsen, Pedro J. J. Alvarez, Craig S. Criddle, Michael Wagner, James M. Tiedje, Qiang He, Thomas P. Curtis, David A. Stahl, Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, Bruce E. Rittmann, Xianghua Wen & Jizhong Zhou

Nature Microbiology 2019

Microorganisms in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are essential for water purification to protect public and environmental health. However, the diversity of microorganisms and the factors that control it are poorly understood. Using a systematic global-sampling effort, we analysed the 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences from ~1,200 activated sludge samples taken from 269 WWTPs in 23 countries on 6 continents. Our analyses revealed that the global activated sludge bacterial communities contain ~1 billion bacterial phylotypes with a Poisson lognormal diversity distribution. Despite this high diversity, activated sludge has a small, global core bacterial community (n = 28 operational taxonomic units) that is strongly linked to activated sludge performance. Meta-analyses with global datasets associate the activated sludge microbiomes most closely to freshwater populations. In contrast to macroorganism diversity, activated sludge bacterial communities show no latitudinal gradient. Furthermore, their spatial turnover is scale-dependent and appears to be largely driven by stochastic processes (dispersal and drift), although deterministic factors (temperature and organic input) are also important. Our findings enhance our mechanistic understanding of the global diversity and biogeography of activated sludge bacterial communities within a theoretical ecology framework and have important implications for microbial ecology and wastewater treatment processes.

Stochastic Community Assembly: Does It Matter in Microbial Ecology?

Jizhong Zhou, Daliang Ning

Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews 2017

Understanding the mechanisms controlling community diversity, functions, succession, and biogeography is a central, but poorly understood, topic in ecology, particularly in microbial ecology. Although stochastic processes are believed to play nonnegligible roles in shaping community structure, their importance relative to deterministic processes is hotly debated. The importance of ecological stochasticity in shaping microbial community structure is far less appreciated. Some of the main reasons for such heavy debates are the difficulty in defining stochasticity and the diverse methods used for delineating stochasticity. Here, we provide a critical review and synthesis of data from the most recent studies on stochastic community assembly in microbial ecology. We then describe both stochastic and deterministic components embedded in various ecological processes, including selection, dispersal, diversification, and drift. We also describe different approaches for inferring stochasticity from observational diversity patterns and highlight experimental approaches for delineating ecological stochasticity in microbial communities. In addition, we highlight research challenges, gaps, and future directions for microbial community assembly research.

updated 2024.3.21