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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Vol. 57, 2013; Pages: 749 - 757

Bacterial communities in soil mimic patterns of vegetative succession and ecosystem climax but are resilient to change between seasons

Mark A. Williams, Kamlesh Jangid, Shankar G. Shanmugam, William B. Whitman

Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, 470 Dorman Hall, Mississippi State University, MS 39762, USA.


Organism succession during ecosystem development has been researched for aboveground plant communities, however, the associated patterns of change in below-ground microbial communities are less described. In 2008, a study was initiated along a developmental sand-dune soil chronosequence bordering northern Lake Michigan near Wilderness Park (WP). It was hypothesized that soil bacterial communities would follow a pattern of change that is associated with soil, plant, and ecosystem development. This study included 5 replicate sites along 9 soils (n = 45) ranging in age from ∼105 to 4010 years since deposition. Soil bacterial community composition and diversity were studied using bacterial tag-encoded FLX amplicon pyrosequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Bray–Curtis ordination indicated that bacterial community assembly changed along the developmental soil and plant gradient. The changes were not affected by seasonal differences, despite likely differences in plant root C (e.g. exudates), temperature, and water availability in soil. Soil base cations (Ca, Mg) and pH declined, showing log-linear correlations with soil age (r ∼ 0.83, 0.84 and 0.81; P < 0.01). Bacterial diversity (Simpson's 1/D) declined rapidly during the initial stages of soil development (∼105–450 y) and thereafter (>450 y) did not change. Turnover of plant taxa was also more rapid early during ecosystem development and correlated with bacterial community structural change (P < 0.000001; r = 0.56). It is hypothesized that plants help to drive pedogenic change during early (<450 y) soil development (e.g. pH decline, cation leaching) which drive selection of soil bacterial communities. In mature soils (∼450–4000 y), resilient and stable soil bacterial community structures developed, mimicking steady-state climax communities that were observed during latter stages of primary plant succession. These relationships point to possible feedbacks between plant and bacterial communities during ecosystem development.

Keywords: Bacterial diversity; Wilderness Park chronosequence; Ecosystem development; Pedogenesis; Soil nutrients and pH; Season; Vegetative succession; 16S rRNA pyrosequencing



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