• disturbance;
  • land use;
  • microbial community;
  • next generation sequencing;
  • soil


The Po river plain lowland springs represent unique paradigms of managed environments. Their current locations used to be swamps that were drained 6–7 centuries ago, and they have been in constant use ever since. Our aims were to identify the effects of land use on the microbial communities of these soils, look for associated diversity drivers, and assess the applicability of ecology theories with respect to identified patterns. We screened the microbial diversity across a land use transect via high-throughput sequencing of partial 16S rrRNA gene amplicons. Land use had a major effect on soil properties and microbial community structures. Total organic carbon and pH were major diversity drivers for Bacteria, and pH was important for Archaea. We identified the potential contribution of soil amendments to the indigenous microbial communities, and also gained insights into potential roles of taxa in the organic carbon turnover. Verrucomicrobia coincided with the higher values of the recalcitrant organic carbon. Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria correlated with the more labile organic carbon. Finally, the higher diversity found in the soils less enzymatically active and relatively poorer in nutrients, may be explained to an extent by niche-based theories such as the resource heterogeneity hypothesis and Connell's intermediate disturbance hypothesis.