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Vol. 105, No.1 ,2008; Pages:

Microbes on mountainsides: Contrasting elevational patterns of bacterial and plant diversity

Jessica A. Bryant*†, Christine Lamanna‡, Helene Morlon*, Andrew J. Kerkhoff§, Brian J. Enquist‡¶II, and Jessica L. Green*†

Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403.


The study of elevational diversity gradients dates back to thefoundation of biogeography. Although elevational patterns ofplant and animal diversity have been studied for centuries, suchpatterns have not been reported for microorganisms and remainpoorly understood. Here, in an effort to assess the generality ofelevational diversity patterns, we examined soil bacterial and plantdiversity along an elevation gradient. To gain insight into theforces that structure these patterns, we adopted a multifacetedapproach to incorporate information about the structure, diversity,and spatial turnover of montane communities in a phylogeneticcontext. We found that observed patterns of plant and bacterialdiversity were fundamentally different. While bacterial taxonrichness and phylogenetic diversity decreased monotonically fromthe lowest to highest elevations, plants followed a unimodalpattern, with a peak in richness and phylogenetic diversity atmid-elevations. At all elevations bacterial communities had atendency to be phylogenetically clustered, containing closely relatedtaxa. In contrast, plant communities did not exhibit a uniformphylogenetic structure across the gradient: they became more overdispersed with increasing elevation, containing distantly related taxa. Finally, a metric of phylogenetic beta-diversity showed that bacterial lineages were not randomly distributed, but rather exhibited significant spatial structure across the gradient, whereas plant lineages did not exhibit a significant phylogenetic signal. Quantifying the influence of sample scale in intertaxonomic comparisons remains a challenge. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that the forces structuring microorganism and macroorganism communities along elevational gradients differ.

Keywords:elevation gradient ,microbial ecology ,phylogenetic diversity ,macroecology ,biogeography,climate change.

Corresponding author:

E-mail: jlgreen@uoregon.edu


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