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Routes and rates of bacterial dispersal impact surface soil microbiome composition and functioning


Recent evidence suggests that, similar to larger organisms, dispersal is a key driver of microbiome assembly; however, our understanding of the rates and taxonomic composition of microbial dispersal in natural environments is limited. Here, we characterized the rate and composition of bacteria dispersing into surface soil via three dispersal routes (from the air above the vegetation, from nearby vegetation and leaf litter near the soil surface, and from the bulk soil and litter below the top layer). We then quantified the impact of those routes on microbial community composition and functioning in the topmost litter layer. The bacterial dispersal rate onto the surface layer was low (7900 cells/cm2/day) relative to the abundance of the resident community. While bacteria dispersed through all three routes at the same rate, only dispersal from above and near the soil surface impacted microbiome composition, suggesting that the composition, not rate, of dispersal influenced community assembly. Dispersal also impacted microbiome functioning. When exposed to dispersal, leaf litter decomposed faster than when dispersal was excluded, although neither decomposition rate nor litter chemistry differed by route. Overall, we conclude that the dispersal routes transport distinct bacterial communities that differentially influence the composition of the surface soil microbiome.

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