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Summary

The ecological significance of rare microorganisms within microbial communities remains an important, unanswered question. Microorganisms of extremely low abundance (the ‘rare biosphere’) are believed to be largely inaccessible and unknown. To understand the structure of complex environmental microbial communities, including the representation of rare and prevalent community members, we coupled traditional cultivation with pyrosequencing. We compared cultured and uncultured bacterial members of the same agricultural soil, including eight locations within one apple orchard and four time points. Our analysis revealed that soil bacteria captured by culturing were in very low abundance or absent in the culture-independent community, demonstrating unexpected accessibility of the rare biosphere by culturing.