Britain's soil bacteria have been mapped for the first time in the most comprehensive study of a country's soil biodiversity to date. The results are published today (20 April 2011) in the journal Environmental Microbiology.
To complete the map the scientific team, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Newcastle University and the University of Oxford, analysed over 1000 soil cores from England, Scotland and Wales, examining microbial DNA sequences in the laboratory to map bacterial biodiversity.
The research was carried out using samples collected for the Countryside Survey project coordinated by (CEH).
The study concluded that bacterial diversity was strongly related to soil pH with acidic soils dominated by few taxa (groups of organisms). Below ground bacterial and above ground plant communities were closely related suggesting that soil bacteria are driven by the same ecological processes that govern higher organisms such as plants.
Bacteria constitute a major portion of the biodiversity in soils and play an essential role in maintaining the health of soil processes which underpin many valuable ecosystem services, including crop production and soil carbon storage.
Lead author Dr Robert Griffiths from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, "Until now our understanding of how bacterial communities vary across the landscape has been extremely limited. Our results provide the first large scale assessment of bacterial communities across Britain's soils and provide a baseline to further explore the complex relationships between soil bacterial biodiversity and ecosystem services. The new research has revealed how microbial distributions in British soils are linked to both soil pH and plant type. "
Co-author Professor Andy Whiteley, also from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, "People don't really think about bacteria in soils when they walk across a field or a park, they are microscop
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Centre for Ecology & Hydrology