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Emergence of soil bacterial ecotypes along a climate gradient.

  • Author(s): Chase, AB
  • Gomez-Lunar, Z
  • Lopez, AE
  • Li, J
  • Allison, SD
  • Martiny, AC
  • Martiny, JBH
  • et al.
Abstract

The high diversity of soil bacteria is attributed to the spatial complexity of soil systems, where habitat heterogeneity promotes niche partitioning among bacterial taxa. This premise remains challenging to test, however, as it requires quantifying the traits of closely related soil bacteria and relating these traits to bacterial abundances and geographic distributions. Here, we sought to investigate whether the widespread soil taxon Curtobacterium consists of multiple coexisting ecotypes with differential geographic distributions. We isolated Curtobacterium strains from six sites along a climate gradient and assayed four functional traits that may contribute to niche partitioning in leaf litter, the top layer of soil. Our results revealed that cultured isolates separated into fine-scale genetic clusters that reflected distinct suites of phenotypic traits, denoting the existence of multiple ecotypes. We then quantified the distribution of Curtobacterium by analysing metagenomic data collected across the gradient over 18 months. Six abundant ecotypes were observed with differential abundances along the gradient, suggesting fine-scale niche partitioning. However, we could not clearly explain observed geographic distributions of ecotypes by relating their traits to environmental variables. Thus, while we can resolve soil bacterial ecotypes, the traits delineating their distinct niches in the environment remain unclear.

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