Aim The spatial organization of soil microbial communities on large scales and the identification of environmental factors structuring their distribution have been little investigated. The overall objective of this study was to determine the spatial patterning of microbial biomass in soils over a wide extent and to rank the environmental filters most influencing this distribution.
Location French territory using the French Soil Quality Monitoring Network. This network covers the entire French territory and soils were sampled at 2150 sites along a systematic grid.
Methods The soil DNA extracted from all these soils was expressed in terms of soil molecular microbial biomass and related to other soil and land-use data over French territory.
Results This study provides the first extensive map of microbial biomass and reveals the heterogeneous and spatially structured distribution of this biomass on the scale of France. The main factors driving biomass distribution are the physico-chemical properties of the soil (texture, pH and total organic carbon) as well as land use. Soils from land used for intensive agriculture, especially monoculture and vineyards, exhibited the smallest biomass pools. Interestingly, factors known to influence the large-scale distribution of macroorganisms, such as climatic factors, were not identified as important drivers for microbial communities.
Main conclusions Microbial abundance is spatially structured and dependent on local filters such as soil characteristics and land use but is relatively independent of global filters such as climatic factors or the presence of natural barriers. Our study confirms that the biogeography of microorganisms differs fundamentally from the biogeography of ‘macroorganisms’ and that soil management can have significant large-scale effects.