A bacterial community may be resistant to environmental disturbances if some of its species show metabolic flexibility and physiological tolerance to the changing conditions. Alternatively, disturbances can change the composition of the community and thereby potentially affect ecosystem processes. The impact of disturbance on the composition of bacterioplankton communities was examined in continuous seawater cultures. Bacterial assemblages from geographically closely connected areas, the Baltic Sea (salinity 7 and high dissolved organic carbon [DOC]) and Skagerrak (salinity 28 and low DOG), were exposed to gradual opposing changes in salinity and DOG over a 3-week period such that the Baltic community was exposed to Skagerrak salinity and DOG and vice versa. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and clone libraries of PCR-amplified 16S rRNA genes showed that the composition of the transplanted communities differed significantly from those held at constant salinity. Despite this, the growth yields (number of cells ml(-1)) were similar, which suggests similar levels of substrate utilization. Deep 454 pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes showed that the composition of the disturbed communities had changed due to the recruitment of phylo-types present in the rare biosphere of the original community. The study shows that members of the rare biosphere can become abundant in a bacterioplankton community after disturbance and that those bacteria can have important roles in maintaining ecosystem processes.