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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2003 Dec;69(12):7420-9.

Spatial analysis of archaeal community structure in grassland soil.

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  • 1Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, Scotland, United Kingdom.


The complex structure of soil and the heterogeneity of resources available to microorganisms have implications for sampling regimens when the structure and diversity of microbial communities are analyzed. To assess the heterogeneity in community structure, archaeal communities, which typically contain sequences belonging to the nonthermophilic Crenarchaeota, were examined at two contrasting spatial scales by using PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis followed by unweighted pair group method with arithmetic mean analysis of 16S rRNA- and ribosomal DNA-derived profiles. A macroscale analysis was carried out with soil cores taken at 2-m intervals along triplicate 8-m transects from both managed (improved) and natural (unimproved) grassland rhizosphere soils. A microscale analysis was carried out with a single soil core by assessing the effects of both sample size (10, 1, and 0.1 g) and distance between samples. The much reduced complexity of archaeal profiles compared to the complexity typical of the bacterial community facilitated visual comparison of profiles based on band presence and revealed different levels of heterogeneity between sets of samples. At the macroscale level, heterogeneity over the transect could not be related to grassland type. Substantial heterogeneity was observed across both improved and unimproved transects, except for one improved transect that exhibited substantial homogeneity, so that profiles for a single core were largely representative of the entire transect. At the smaller scale, the heterogeneity of the archaeal community structure varied with sample size within a single 8- by 8-cm core. The archaeal DGGE profiles for replicate 10-g soil samples were similar, while those for 1-g samples and 0.1-g samples showed greater heterogeneity. In addition, there was no relationship between the archaeal profiles and the distance between 1- or 0.1-g samples, although relationships between community structure and distance of separation may occur at a smaller scale. Our findings demonstrate the care required when workers attempt to obtain a representative picture of microbial community structure in the soil environment.

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