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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Temporal Changes of Virus-Like Particle Abundance and Metagenomic Comparison of Viral Communities in Cropland and Prairie Soils


During the last several decades, viruses have been increasingly recognized for their abundance, ubiquity, and important roles in different ecosystems. Despite known contributions to aquatic systems, few studies examine viral abundance and community structure over time in terrestrial ecosystems. The effects of land conversion and land management on soil microbes have been previously investigated, but their effects on virus population are not well studied. This study examined annual dynamics of viral abundance in soils from a native tallgrass prairie and two croplands, conventional till winter wheat and no-till canola, in Oklahoma. Virus-like particle (VLP) abundance varied across sites, and showed clear seasonal shifts. VLP abundance significantly correlated with environmental variables that were generally reflective of land use, including air temperature, soil nitrogen, and plant canopy coverage. Structural equation modeling supported the effects of land use on soil communities by emphasizing interactions between management, environmental factors, and viral and bacterial abundance. Between the viral metagenomes from the prairie and tilled wheat field, 1,231 unique viral operational taxonomic units (vOTUs) were identified, and only five were shared that were rare in the contrasting field. Only 13% of the vOTUs had similarity to previously identified viruses in the RefSeq database, with only 7% having known taxonomic classification. Together, our findings indicated land use and tillage practices influence virus abundance and community structure. Analyses of viromes over time and space are vital to viral ecology in providing insight on viral communities and key information on interactions between viruses, their microbial hosts, and the environment. IMPORTANCE Conversion of land alters the physiochemical and biological environments by not only changing the aboveground community, but also modifying the soil environment for viruses and microbes. Soil microbial communities are critical to nutrient cycling, carbon mineralization, and soil quality; and viruses are known for influencing microbial abundance, community structure, and evolution. Therefore, viruses are considered an important part of soil functions in terrestrial ecosystems. In aquatic environments, virus abundance generally exceeds bacterial counts by an order of magnitude, and they are thought to be one of the greatest genetic reservoirs on the planet. However, data are extremely limited on viruses in soils, and even less is known about their responses to the disturbances associated with land use and management. The study provides important insights into the temporal dynamics of viral abundance and the structure of viral communities in response to the common practice of turning native habitats into arable soils.

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