Abiotic conditions outweigh microbial origin during bacterial assembly in soils

Laura M. Kaminsky, Paul D. Esker, Terrence H. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Understanding the processes guiding microbial community assembly in soils is essential for predicting microbiome structure and function following soil disturbance events like agricultural soil fumigation. However, assembly outcomes are complex and variable, being affected by both selective abiotic forces and by the history of colonizing microorganisms. To untangle the interactions between these factors, we conducted a controlled microcosm study tracking bacterial assembly in cleared soils over 7 weeks. We used mesh bags to connect five unsterilized source soils, differing in land use history (forested, agricultural, or fallow), with four sterile recipient soil treatments, differing in abiotic conditions (no soil additives, salt addition, urea addition, or mixed salt/urea addition). We found that 59%–96% of bacterial colonizers after 1 week were Firmicutes, but by 7 weeks Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes were also dominant. Salt and nitrogen additions reshaped bacterial assembly by constraining alpha diversity by up to half and biomass accumulation by up to an order of magnitude. Within-treatment dispersion was significantly lower for salt and nutrient addition microcosms, suggesting deterministic selective pressures. In contrast, source soil origin had little impact on assembly trajectories. These results suggest that abiotic conditions can overshadow microbial source history in shaping community assembly outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)358-371
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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