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Summary

Novel phylogenetic lineages of as yet uncultivated crenarchaeota have been frequently detected in low to moderate-temperature, marine and terrestrial environments. In order to gain a more comprehensive view on the distribution and diversity of Crenarchaeota in moderate habitats, we have studied 18 different terrestrial and freshwater samples by 16S rDNA-based phylogenetic surveys. In seven different soil samples of diverse geographic areas in Europe (forest, grassland, ruderal) and Asia (permafrost, ruderal) as well as in two microbial mats, we have consistently found one particular lineage of crenarchaeota. The diversity of Crenarchaeota in freshwater sediments was considerably higher with respresentative 16S rDNA sequences distributed over four different groups within the moderate crenarchaeota. Systematic analysis of a 16S rDNA universal library from a sandy ecosystem containing 800 clones exclusively revealed the presence of the soil-specific crenarchaeotal cluster. With primers specific for non-thermophilic crenarchaeota we established a rapid method to quantify archaeal 16S rDNA in real time PCR. The relative abundance of crenarchaeotal rDNA was 0.5–3% in the bulk soil sample and only 0.16% in the rhizosphere of the sandy ecosystem. A nearby agricultural setting yielded a relative abundance of 0.17% crenarchaeotal rDNA. In total our data suggest that soil crenarchaeota represent a stable and specific component of the microbiota in terrestrial habitats.