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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Jun;76(12):3936-42. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03085-09. Epub 2010 Apr 23.

Low pore connectivity increases bacterial diversity in soil.

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  • 1Soil Biology Group, School of Earth and Environment, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia.


One of soil microbiology's most intriguing puzzles is how so many different bacterial species can coexist in small volumes of soil when competition theory predicts that less competitive species should decline and eventually disappear. We provide evidence supporting the theory that low pore connectivity caused by low water potential (and therefore low water content) increases the diversity of a complex bacterial community in soil. We altered the pore connectivity of a soil by decreasing water potential and increasing the content of silt- and clay-sized particles. Two textures were created, without altering the chemical properties or mineral composition of the soil, by adding silt- and clay-sized particles of quartz to a quartz-based sandy soil at rates of 0% (sand) or 10% (silt+clay). Both textures were incubated at several water potentials, and the effect on the active bacterial communities was measured using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP) of bacterial 16S rRNA. Bacterial richness and diversity increased as water potential decreased and soil became drier (P < 0.012), but they were not affected by texture (P > 0.553). Bacterial diversity increased at water potentials of <or=2.5 kPa in sand and <or=4.0 kPa in silt+clay, equivalent to <or=56% water-filled pore space (WFPS) in both textures. The bacterial community structure in soil was affected by both water potential and texture (P < 0.001) and was correlated with WFPS (sum of squared correlations [delta(2)] = 0.88, P < 0.001). These findings suggest that low pore connectivity is commonly experienced by soil bacteria under field conditions and that the theory of pore connectivity may provide a fundamental principle to explain the high diversity of bacteria in soil.

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