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Res Microbiol. 2005 Aug;156(7):775-84. Epub 2005 Apr 7.

Structure and function of alpine and arctic soil microbial communities.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.


Cultivation-independent molecular phylogenetic techniques are now widely employed to examine environmental microbial diversity; however, the relationship between microbial community structure and ecosystem function is unclear. This review synthesizes cultivation-independent views of microbiological diversity with our current understanding of nutrient dynamics in alpine and arctic soils. Recently, we have begun to explore connections between microbial community structure and function in soils from the alpine Niwot Ridge LTER site in Colorado, USA, whose ecology has been extensively investigated for over 50 years. We examined the diversity of bacterial, eucaryal, and archaeal small subunit rRNA genes in tundra and talus soils across seasons in the alpine. This work has provided support for spatial and seasonal shifts in specific microbial groups, which correlate well with previously documented transitions in microbial processes. In addition, these preliminary results suggest that the physiologies of certain groups of organisms may scale up to the ecosystem level, providing the basis for testable hypotheses about the function of specific microbes in this system. These studies have also expanded on the known diversity of life, as these soils harbor bacterial and eucaryotic lineages that are distantly related to other known organisms. In contrast to the alpine, microbial diversity in the arctic has been little explored; only three published studies have used molecular techniques to examine these soils. Because of the importance of these systems, particularly to the global C cycle, and their vulnerability to current and impending climate change, the microbial diversity of these soils needs to be further investigated.

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