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Relative roles of niche and neutral processes in structuring a soil microbial community

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Publication details

JournalThe ISME Journal
DateE-pub ahead of print - 19 Nov 2009
DatePublished (current) - 2010
Issue number3
Number of pages9
Pages (from-to)337-345
Early online date19/11/09
Original languageEnglish


Most attempts to identify the processes that structure natural communities have focused on conspicuous macroorganisms whereas the processes responsible for structuring microbial communities remain relatively unknown. Two main theories explaining these processes have emerged; niche theory, which highlights the importance of deterministic processes, and neutral theory, which focuses on stochastic processes. We examined whether neutral or niche-based mechanisms best explain the composition and structure of communities of a functionally important soil microbe, the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. Using molecular techniques, we surveyed AM fungi from 425 individual plants of 28 plant species along a soil pH gradient. There was evidence that both niche and neutral processes structured this community. Species abundances fitted the zero-sum multinomial distribution and there was evidence of dispersal limitation, both indicators of neutral processes. However, we found stronger support that niche differentiation based on abiotic soil factors, primarily pH, was structuring the AM fungal community. Host plant species affected AM fungal community composition negligibly compared to soil pH. We conclude that although niche partitioning was the primary mechanism regulating the composition and diversity of natural AM fungal communities, these communities are also influenced by stochastic-neutral processes. This study represents one of the most comprehensive investigations of community-level processes acting on soil microbes; revealing a community that although influenced by stochastic processes, still responded in a predictable manner to a major abiotic niche axis, soil pH. The strong response to environmental factors of this community highlights the susceptibility of soil microbes to environmental change. The ISME Journal (2010) 4, 337-345; doi:10.1038/ismej.2009.122; published online 19 November 2009

    Research areas

  • Glomeromycota, neutral theory, niche differentiation, microbial ecology, terminal fragment length polymorphisms, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, ARBUSCULAR MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI, POLYMORPHISM T-RFLP, SPECIES-ABUNDANCE, BETA DIVERSITY, AMPLIFICATION, ECOLOGY, ASSEMBLAGES, WOODLAND, DYNAMICS, ROOTS

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