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Soil microbial community variation correlates most strongly with plant species identity, followed by soil chemistry, spatial location and plant genus


Soil ecologists have debated the relative importance of dispersal limitation and ecological factors in determining the structure of soil microbial communities. Recent evidence suggests that 'everything is not everywhere', and that microbial communities are influenced by both dispersal limitation and ecological factors. However, we still do not understand the relative explanatory power of spatial and ecological factors, including plant species identity and even plant relatedness, for different fractions of the soil microbial community (i.e. bacterial and fungal communities). To ask whether factors such as plant species, soil chemistry, spatial location and plant relatedness influence rhizosphere community composition, we examined field-collected rhizosphere soil of seven congener pairs that occur at Bodega Bay Marine Reserve, CA, USA. We characterized differences in bacterial and fungal communities using terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism. Plant species identity was the single best statistical predictor of both bacterial and fungal community composition in the root zone. Soil microbial community structure was also correlated with soil chemistry. The third best predictor of bacterial and fungal communities was spatial location, confirming that everything is not everywhere. Variation in microbial community composition was also related to combinations of spatial location, soil chemistry and plant relatedness, suggesting that these factors do not act independently. Plant relatedness explained less of the variation than plant species, soil chemistry, or spatial location. Despite some congeners occupying different habitats and being spatially distant, rhizosphere fungal communities of plant congeners were more similar than expected by chance. Bacterial communities from the same samples were only weakly similar between plant congeners. Thus, plant relatedness might influence soil fungal, more than soil bacterial, community composition.

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