June 19, 2022
Journal Article

Spatio-temporal microbial community dynamics within soil aggregates


Soil microbial communities are highly spatially organized, shaped in part by the structure of soil itself. Understanding how spatially discrete microbial communities change across years and seasons in response to environmental factors, plant phenology and aggregate turnover, is key to understanding how varying management practices impact the ecology of soil microbial communities. We investigated both seasonal (within year) and annual (across sampling years) changes of discrete microbial communities in soil aggregate fractions, large macroaggregates (LM) and microaggregates (MICRO). We hypothesized that 1) seasonal changes due to plant phenology and aggregate turnover will be most pronounced within the MICRO aggregate soil microbial community; 2) inter-annual variability will lead to changes in microbial diversity across aggregate sizes and the magnitude of change will be mediated by management regime. We found that LM aggregates and MICRO aggregates have unique microbial communities within soil. MICRO aggregate microbial communities are more diverse and change more dynamically across the sampling season, peaking in diversity at peak plant growth and maximum biomass. The number of families indicative of specific MICRO aggregate habitats increases over the growing season for both bacteria (from 3 to 51) and fungi (from 8 to 14). The LM aggregates harbored less diverse, yet more stable, communities within a growing season. By contrast, between years the LM aggregates were the most responsive to inter-annual variability. Our study demonstrates the importance of including the spatio-temporal dynamics of soil microbes. We identified “hot spots” of microbial diversity within soil, with a greater diversity of microbes found under prairies, within the MICRO aggregates, and seasonally during peak plant biomass. Targeted analysis of the MICRO aggregates can contribute to deeper understanding of potential diversity and functioning of soil microbial communities for ecosystem maintenance and response to climatic events and environmental change.

Published: June 19, 2022


Upton R., E. Bach, and K.S. Hofmockel. 2019. Spatio-temporal microbial community dynamics within soil aggregates. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 132, no. 2019:58-68. PNNL-SA-139179. doi:10.1016/j.soilbio.2019.01.016