Spatial scale drives patterns in soil bacterial diversity. Academic Article uri icon


  • Soil microbial communities are essential for ecosystem function, but linking community composition to biogeochemical processes is challenging because of high microbial diversity and large spatial variability of most soil characteristics. We investigated soil bacterial community structure in a switchgrass stand planted on soil with a history of grassland vegetation at high spatial resolution to determine whether biogeographic trends occurred at the centimeter scale. Moreover, we tested whether such heterogeneity, if present, influenced community structure within or among ecosystems. Pronounced heterogeneity was observed at centimeter scales, with abrupt changes in relative abundance of phyla from sample to sample. At the ecosystem scale (> 10 m), however, bacterial community composition and structure were subtly, but significantly, altered by fertilization, with higher alpha diversity in fertilized plots. Moreover, by comparing these data with data from 1772 soils from the Earth Microbiome Project, it was found that 20% of bacterial taxa were shared between their site and diverse globally sourced soil samples, while grassland soils shared approximately 40% of their operational taxonomic units with the current study. By spanning several orders of magnitude, the analysis suggested that extreme patchiness characterized community structure at smaller scales but that coherent patterns emerged at larger length scales.

publication date

  • June 2016