The bacterial biogeography of British soils

Authors

  • Robert I. Griffiths,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
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  • Bruce C. Thomson,

    1. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
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  • Phillip James,

    1. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
    2. School of Biology, Ridley Building, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK
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  • Thomas Bell,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK
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  • Mark Bailey,

    1. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
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  • Andrew S. Whiteley

    1. Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
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E-mail rig@ceh.ac.uk; Tel. +44 (0)1491 838800; Fax +44 (0)1491 692424.

Summary

Despite recognition of the importance of soil bacteria to terrestrial ecosystem functioning there is little consensus on the factors regulating belowground biodiversity. Here we present a multi-scale spatial assessment of soil bacterial community profiles across Great Britain (> 1000 soil cores), and show the first landscape scale map of bacterial distributions across a nation. Bacterial diversity and community dissimilarities, assessed using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism, were most strongly related to soil pH providing a large-scale confirmation of the role of pH in structuring bacterial taxa. However, while α diversity was positively related to pH, the converse was true for β diversity (between sample variance in α diversity). β diversity was found to be greatest in acidic soils, corresponding with greater environmental heterogeneity. Analyses of clone libraries revealed the pH effects were predominantly manifest at the level of broad bacterial taxonomic groups, with acidic soils being dominated by few taxa (notably the group 1 Acidobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria). We also noted significant correlations between bacterial communities and most other measured environmental variables (soil chemistry, aboveground features and climatic variables), together with significant spatial correlations at close distances. In particular, bacterial and plant communities were closely related signifying no strong evidence that soil bacteria are driven by different ecological processes to those governing higher organisms. We conclude that broad scale surveys are useful in identifying distinct soil biomes comprising reproducible communities of dominant taxa. Together these results provide a baseline ecological framework with which to pursue future research on both soil microbial function, and more explicit biome based assessments of the local ecological drivers of bacterial biodiversity.

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