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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Microbial functional traits are sensitive indicators of mild disturbance by lamb grazing


Mild disturbances are prevalent in the environment, which may not be easily notable but could have considerable ecological consequences over prolonged periods. To evaluate this, a field study was designed to examine the effects of very light-intensity lamb grazing on grassland soil microbiomes with different soil backgrounds. No significant change (P > 0.05) was observed in any vegetation and soil variables. Nonetheless, hundreds of microbial functional gene families, but not bacterial taxonomy, were significantly (P < 0.05) shifted. The relative abundances of both taxonomic markers and functional genes related to nitrifying bacteria were also changed. The observation highlighted herein, showing a high level of sensitivity with respect to functional traits (functionally categorized taxa or genes) in differentiating mild environmental disturbance, suggests that the key level at which to address microbial responses may not be "species" (by means of rRNA taxonomy), but rather at the functional gene level.

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