Convergence and contrast in the community structure of Bacteria, Fungi and Archaea along a tropical elevation-climate gradient

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Changes in species richness along climatological gradients have been instrumental in developing theories about the general drivers of biodiversity. Previous studies on microbial communities along climate gradients on mountainsides have revealed positive, negative and neutral richness trends. We examined changes in richness and composition of Fungi, Bacteria and Archaea in soil along a 50-1000 m elevation, 280-3280 mm/yr precipitation gradient in Hawai'i. Soil properties and their drivers are exceptionally well understood along this gradient. All three microbial groups responded strongly to the gradient, with community ordinations being similar along axes of environmental conditions (pH, rainfall) and resource availability (nitrogen, phosphorus). However, the form of the richness-climate relationship varied between Fungi (positive linear), Bacteria (unimodal) and Archaea (negative linear). These differences were related to resource-ecology and limiting conditions for each group, with fungal richness increasing most strongly with soil carbon, ammonia-oxidizing Archaea increasing with nitrogen mineralization rate, and Bacteria increasing with both carbon and pH. Reponses to the gradient became increasingly variable at finer taxonomic scales and within any taxonomic group most individual OTUs occurred in narrow climate-elevation ranges. These results show that microbial responses to climate gradients are heterogeneous due to complexity of underlying environmental changes and the diverse ecologies of microbial taxa.

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