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ISME J. 2013 Nov;7(11):2229-41. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2013.104. Epub 2013 Jul 4.

Responses of soil bacterial and fungal communities to extreme desiccation and rewetting.

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1] Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley CA, USA [2] Institute of Agricultural Sciences, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


The microbial response to summer desiccation reflects adaptation strategies, setting the stage for a large rainfall-induced soil CO2 pulse upon rewetting, an important component of the ecosystem carbon budget. In three California annual grasslands, the present (DNA-based) and potentially active (RNA-based) soil bacterial and fungal communities were tracked over a summer season and in response to controlled rewetting of intact soil cores. Phylogenetic marker genes for bacterial (16S) and fungal (28S) RNA and DNA were sequenced, and the abundances of these genes and transcripts were measured. Although bacterial community composition differed among sites, all sites shared a similar response pattern of the present and potentially active bacterial community to dry-down and wet-up. In contrast, the fungal community was not detectably different among sites, and was largely unaffected by dry-down, showing marked resistance to dessication. The potentially active bacterial community changed significantly as summer dry-down progressed, then returned to pre-dry-down composition within several hours of rewetting, displaying spectacular resilience. Upon rewetting, transcript copies of bacterial rpoB genes increased consistently, reflecting rapid activity resumption. Acidobacteria and Actinobacteria were the most abundant phyla present and potentially active, and showed the largest changes in relative abundance. The relative increase (Actinobacteria) and decrease (Acidobacteria) with dry-down, and the reverse responses to rewetting reflected a differential response, which was conserved at the phylum level and consistent across sites. These contrasting desiccation-related bacterial life-strategies suggest that predicted changes in precipitation patterns may affect soil nutrient and carbon cycling by differentially impacting activity patterns of microbial communities.

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