Understanding the extent of heterogeneity in soil microbial community structure and function at different scales within vegetation communities is critical to designing appropriate sampling protocols. Environmental factors (e.g. disturbance) make sampling in the riparian zone particularly challenging as vegetation communities are highly heterogeneous. To assess whether heterogeneity in soil and vegetation factors is reflected in microbial communities, a study was conducted in a riparian area in southern Australia. Nine quadrats were established encompassing different environmental conditions. Within quadrats physical, chemical and biological soil properties were analysed at two depths (top-soil = 0–10 cm and sub-soil = 20–30 cm), and floristic composition of ground cover, sub-canopy and canopy vegetation assessed. Soil biological analyses included microbial community composition (genetic analysis using ITS and 16S regions), and function (microbial metabolic activity using EcoPlates). Variation in soil microbial communities (fungi, bacteria, archaea) was related to differences in vegetation factors, particularly sub-canopy, and to a lesser extent, soil chemical properties. Relationships between variation in microbial communities and vegetation composition were stronger in top-soil than sub-soil. These observations were consistent for fungal communities excluding the phylum Glomeromycota, where the relationship was stronger with ground cover and only for top-soil. Variation in soil microbial community function was not related to variation in microbial community composition, soil physicochemical properties or vegetation factors. Our findings suggest there is little variation in the composition of soil microbial communities within areas with similar vegetation, and a small sampling effort would be needed to adequately describe the characteristics of such soil communities.
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We thank Lisa Wittick, Sascha Andrusiak, Nicholas Osborne for technical support, Sabine Kasel for advice on statistical analyses, and field assistants Cordula Gutekunst, Ana Bermudez Contreras, Sarah Fischer, Tony Lovell, Kathy Russell, Robert Dabal, Anu Singh and Scott McKendrick. Our work was supported by Melbourne Water, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment and Ecological Society of Australia, and the Madeleine Selwyn Smith Memorial Scholarship. Vicky Waymouth was a recipient of a Research Training Program scholarship. We would like to acknowledge the contributions of the Biomes of Australian Soil Environments (BASE) and Australian Microbiome consortiums to the generation of genetic data for this study. The Australian Microbiome initiative is supported by funding from Bioplatforms Australia and the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) through the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), Parks Australia through the Bush Blitz program funded by the Australian Government and BHP, and the CSIRO.
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Communicated by Miranda Hart.
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Waymouth, V., Miller, R.E., Ede, F. et al. Variation in soil microbial communities: elucidating relationships with vegetation and soil properties, and testing sampling effectiveness. Plant Ecol 221, 837–851 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-020-01029-w
- Community-level physiological profile (CLPP)
- Soil physicochemical properties
- Spatial variation
- Riparian vegetation