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Linking Microbial Community Structure to Trait Distributions and Functions Using Salinity as an Environmental Filter

  • Kristin M. Rath
  • Arpita Maheshwari
  • Johannes Rousk
Publishing year: 2019-07-23
Language: English
Publication/Series: MBio
Volume: 10
Issue: 4
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: American Society for Microbiology

Abstract english

The structure and function of microbial communities vary along environmental gradients; however, interlinking the two has been challenging. In this study, salinity was used as an environmental filter to study how it could shape trait distributions, community structures, and the resulting functions of soil microbes. The environmental filter was applied by salinizing nonsaline soil (0 to 22 mg NaCl g-1). Our targeted community trait distribution (salt tolerance) was determined with dose-response relationships between bacterial growth and salinity. The bacterial community structure responses were resolved with Illumina 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing, and the microbial functions determined were respiration and bacterial and fungal growth. Salt exposure quickly resulted in filtered trait distributions, and stronger filters resulted in larger shifts. The filtered trait distributions correlated well with community composition differences, suggesting that trait distribution shifts were driven at least partly by species turnover. While salt exposure decreased respiration, microbial growth responses appeared to be characterized by competitive interactions. Fungal growth was highest when bacterial growth was inhibited by the highest salinity, and it was lowest when the bacterial growth rate peaked at intermediate salt levels. These findings corroborated a higher potential for fungal salt tolerance than bacterial salt tolerance for communities derived from a nonsaline soil. In conclusion, by using salt as an environmental filter, we could interlink the targeted trait distribution with both the community structure and resulting functions of soil microbes.IMPORTANCE Understanding the role of ecological communities in maintaining multiple ecosystem processes is a central challenge in ecology. Soil microbial communities perform vital ecosystem functions, such as the decomposition of organic matter to provide plant nutrition. However, despite the functional importance of soil microorganisms, attribution of ecosystem function to particular constituents of the microbial community has been impeded by a lack of information linking microbial processes to community composition and structure. Here, we apply a conceptual framework to determine how microbial communities influence ecosystem processes, by applying a "top-down" trait-based approach. By determining the dependence of microbial processes on environmental factors (e.g., the tolerance to salinity), we can define the aggregate response trait distribution of the community, which then can be linked to the community structure and the resulting function performed by the microbial community.


  • Ecology
  • biogeochemistry
  • community ecology
  • predictive ecology
  • soil biology
  • soil carbon
  • soil microbiology
  • structure and function
  • traits


  • ISSN: 2161-2129
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E-mail: johannes [dot] rousk [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

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