Phylogeny is an ecologically meaningful way to classify plants and animals, as closely related taxa frequently have similar ecological characteristics, functional traits and effects on ecosystem processes. For bacteria, however, phylogeny has been argued to be an unreliable indicator of an organism’s ecology owing to evolutionary processes more common to microbes such as gene loss and lateral gene transfer, as well as convergent evolution.

Multi-drug-resistant bacteria pose a significant threat to public health. The role of the environment in the overall rise in antibiotic-resistant infections and risk to humans is largely unknown. This study aimed to evaluate drivers of antibiotic-resistance levels across the River Thames catchment, model key biotic, spatial and chemical variables and produce predictive models for future risk assessment. Sediment samples from 13 sites across the River Thames basin were taken at four time points across 2011 and 2012.