The extent to which the distribution of soil bacteria is controlled by local environment vs. spatial factors (e.g. dispersal, colonization limitation, evolutionary events) is poorly understood and widely debated. Our understanding of biogeographic controls in microbial communities is likely hampered by the enormous environmental variability encountered across spatial scales and the broad diversity of microbial life histories. Here, we constrained environmental factors (soil chemistry, climate, above-ground plant community) to investigate the specific influence of space, by fitting all other variables first, on bacterial communities in soils over distances from m to 102 km. We found strong evidence for a spatial component to bacterial community structure that varies with scale and organism life history (dispersal and survival ability). Geographic distance had no influence over community structure for organisms known to have survival stages, but the converse was true for organisms thought to be less hardy. Community function (substrate utilization) was also shown to be highly correlated with community structure, but not to abiotic factors, suggesting nonstochastic determinants of community structure are important Our results support the view that bacterial soil communities are constrained by both edaphic factors and geographic distance and further show that the relative importance of such constraints depends critically on the taxonomic resolution used to evaluate spatio-temporal patterns of microbial diversity, as well as life history of the groups being investigated, much as is the case for macro-organisms.
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