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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2003 Mar;69(3):1800-9.

Soil type is the primary determinant of the composition of the total and active bacterial communities in arable soils.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, England, UK.


Degradation of agricultural land and the resulting loss of soil biodiversity and productivity are of great concern. Land-use management practices can be used to ameliorate such degradation. The soil bacterial communities at three separate arable farms in eastern England, with different farm management practices, were investigated by using a polyphasic approach combining traditional soil analyses, physiological analysis, and nucleic acid profiling. Organic farming did not necessarily result in elevated organic matter levels; instead, a strong association with increased nitrate availability was apparent. Ordination of the physiological (BIOLOG) data separated the soil bacterial communities into two clusters, determined by soil type. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analyses of 16S ribosomal DNA identified three bacterial communities largely on the basis of soil type but with discrimination for pea cropping. Five fields from geographically distinct soils, with different cropping regimens, produced highly similar profiles. The active communities (16S rRNA) were further discriminated by farm location and, to some degree, by land-use practices. The results of this investigation indicated that soil type was the key factor determining bacterial community composition in these arable soils. Leguminous crops on particular soil types had a positive effect upon organic matter levels and resulted in small changes in the active bacterial population. The active population was therefore more indicative of short-term management changes.

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