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Temperature Drives the Continental-Scale Distribution of Key Microbes in Topsoil Communities

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Science  28 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6140, pp. 1574-1577
DOI: 10.1126/science.1236404

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Desert Soil Shuffle

Soil microorganisms make up a substantial fraction of global biomass, turning over carbon and other key nutrients on a massive scale. Although the soil protects them somewhat from daily temperature fluxes, the distribution of these communities will likely respond to gradual climate change. Garcia-Pichel et al. (p. 1574, see the cover; see the Perspective by Belnap) surveyed bacterial diversity across a range of North American desert soils, or biocrusts—ecosystems in which photosynthetic bacteria determine soil fertility and control physical soil properties such as erodability and water retention. Most of the sites were dominated by one of two cyanobacterial species, but their relative proportions were controlled largely by factors related to temperature. Laboratory enrichment cultures of the two species at different temperatures also showed temperature as a primary determining factor of bacterial diversity. It is unknown if temperature will affect the distribution of other soil microorganisms, but the marked shifts of these two keystone bacterial species suggest further change is in store for these delicate ecosystems.