Characterization of Growing Soil Bacterial Communities across a pH gradient Using H218O DNA-Stable Isotope Probing

Friday, 19 December 2014
Amy T Welty-Bernard, INRA National Institute of Agricultural Research, Dijon, France and Egbert Schwartz, Northern Arizona University, Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
Recent studies have established consistent relationships between pH and bacterial diversity and community structure in soils from site-specific to landscape scales. However, these studies rely on DNA or PLFA extraction techniques from bulk soils that encompass metabolically active and inactive, or dormant, communities, and loose DNA. Dormant cells may comprise up to 80% of total live cells. If dormant cells dominate a particular environment, it is possible that previous interpretations of the soil variables assumed to drive communities could be profoundly affected. We used H218O stable isotope probing and bar-coded illumina sequencing of 16S rRNA genes to monitor the response of actively growing communities to changes in soil pH in a soil microcosm over 14 days. This substrate-independent approach has several advantages over 13C or 15N-labelled molecules in that all growing bacteria should be able to make use of water, allowing characterization of whole communities. We hypothesized that Acidobacteria would increasingly dominate the growing community and that Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes would decline, given previously established responses by these taxa to soil pH. Instead, we observed the reverse. Actinobacteria abundance increased three-fold from 26 to 76% of the overall community as soil pH fell from pH 5.6 to pH 4.6. Shifts in community structure and decreases in diversity with declining soil pH were essentially driven by two families, Streptomyceaca and Microbacteracea, which collectively increased from 2 to 40% of the entire community. In contrast, Acidobacteria as a whole declined although numbers of subdivision 1 remained stable across all soil pH levels. We suggest that the brief incubation period in this SIP study selected for growth of acid-tolerant Actinobacteria over Acidobacteria. Taxa within Actinomycetales have been readily cultured over short time frames, suggesting rapid growth patterns. Conversely, taxa within Acidobacteria have been characterized as slow growers with low cell turnover and may represent a relatively quiescent portion of the bacterial community over the short-term. These results suggest that the short-term responses by individual taxa to pH may differ significantly from long-term responses reflecting variable life strategies within the community itself.