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Microb Ecol. 2005 Oct;50(3):315-26. Epub 2005 Nov 24.

Microbial community structure at different depths in disturbed and undisturbed semiarid Mediterranean forest soils.

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Centro de Investigaciones sobre Desertificación (CIDE), CSIC, Universitat de València, Generalitat Valenciana, Camí de la Marjal, s/n, 46470, Albal, Valencia, Spain.


Metabolic abilities and micrfiobial community structure were investigated through three semiarid Mediterranean soils of SE Spain. The soils were (1) a Typic Calcixerept under an adult pine plantation (PP), growing on abandoned agricultural terraces; (2) a Typic Calcixeroll under a native pinewood (NP); and (3) a Typic Haploxerept covered with a grass steppe (GS). PP and NP were similar as regards their genesis, but the former used to be tilled. NP and GS were undisturbed and supported natural and seminatural vegetation, respectively. Seven samples in 10-cm depth increments were taken in triplicate along each soil profile. Community-level physiological profiles based on sole-C-source use were determined to characterize the metabolic abilities. A 16S rDNA polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis analysis was performed to investigate the microbial genetic structure. Plant cover and land-use history were major determinants of microbial community structure. Microbial communities residing in soils under a native pinewood, the most diverse and stable plant cover, were the most complex both metabolically and genetically. The microbial community structure distinctly changed with depth, related to the quantity and quality of total organic carbon. Both undisturbed soils showed falling gradients of metabolic and genetic complexity, which were invariably of a greater magnitude in the mature woodland than in the grass steppe. In the planted pinewood, however, the substrate-use diversity increased with depth, apparently a response to the depleted metabolic abilities within its upper layer (0-30 cm). Tilling and plant cover removal might be responsible for such a perturbation. In the same profile, molecular fingerprint patterns of the topsoil layer (0-10 cm) indicated a disturbed genetic structure that might underlie the loss of metabolic abilities. However, the genetic structure of the deeper layers of the planted and native pinewoods was not dissimilar, revealing that equivalent genetic resources perform different environmental functions under changing soil scenarios.

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