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PLoS One
Vol. 6, No: 9, 2011, Pages: xxx - xxx

Desert farming benefits from microbial potential in arid soils and promotes diversity and plant health

Köberl M, Müller H, Ramadan EM, Berg G

Institute for Environmental Biotechnology, Graz University of Technology, Graz, Austria.



To convert deserts into arable, green landscapes is a global vision, and desert farming is a strong growing area of agriculture world-wide. However, its effect on diversity of soil microbial communities, which are responsible for important ecosystem services like plant health, is still not known.


We studied the impact of long-term agriculture on desert soil in one of the most prominent examples for organic desert farming in Sekem (Egypt). Using a polyphasic methodological approach to analyse microbial communities in soil as well as associated with cultivated plants, drastic effects caused by 30 years of agriculture were detected. Analysing bacterial fingerprints, we found statistically significant differences between agricultural and native desert soil of about 60%. A pyrosequencing-based analysis of the 16S rRNA gene regions showed higher diversity in agricultural than in desert soil (Shannon diversity indices: 11.21/7.90), and displayed structural differences. The proportion of Firmicutes in field soil was significantly higher (37%) than in the desert (11%). Bacillus and Paenibacillus play the key role: they represented 96% of the antagonists towards phytopathogens, and identical 16S rRNA sequences in the amplicon library and for isolates were detected. The proportion of antagonistic strains was doubled in field in comparison to desert soil (21.6%/12.4%); disease-suppressive bacteria were especially enriched in plant roots. On the opposite, several extremophilic bacterial groups, e.g., Acidimicrobium, Rubellimicrobium and Deinococcus-Thermus, disappeared from soil after agricultural use. The N-fixing Herbaspirillum group only occurred in desert soil. Soil bacterial communities were strongly driven by the a-biotic factors water supply and pH.


After long-term farming, a drastic shift in the bacterial communities in desert soil was observed. Bacterial communities in agricultural soil showed a higher diversity and a better ecosystem function for plant health but a loss of extremophilic bacteria. Interestingly, we detected that indigenous desert microorganisms promoted plant health in desert agro-ecosystems.

Keywords:Acidimicrobium, Rubellimicrobium and Deinococcus-Thermus, disappeared from soil after agricultural use.


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