Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tallgrass Prairie Soils in the United States

Written by David Londe

Below ground activity is only just beginning to be understood in grassland systems. Below find a summary of some work to understand microbial communities in grasslands.

Noah Fierer, Joshua Ladau, Jose C. Clemente, Jonathan W. Leff, Sarah M. Owens, Katherine S. Pollard, Rob Knight, Jack A. Gilbert, and   Rebecca L. McCulley. 2013. Reconstructing the Microbial Diversity and Function of Pre-Agricultural Tallgrass Prairie Soils in the United States. Science:. 342: 621-624.

Summary:
The effects of cultivation on microbial communities in native prairies have been generally overlooked, but this study shows that cultivated lands contain very different microbial communities from uncultivated prairie ecosystems. Fierer et al. (2013) applied genetic data from undisturbed prairie to spatial models to reconstruct the diversity and distribution of pre-agricultural below-ground microbial communities of the Great Plains. They found that microbial diversity and patterns of community similarities were closely tied to the relative abundance of a group of microbes known as Verrucomicrobia. Despite being the dominant microbial group in tall grass prairie, Verrucomicrobia are poorly understood.  However, due to their biology, Verrucomicrobia appear to play an important role in grassland carbon cycles.  Some research indicates that Verrucomicrobial communities decline in soils that have been treated with nutrients for agricultural purposes. The authors propose that microbial distribution models could be used to aid prairie restoration projects. Information from these models could provide a benchmark for successful restoration of below-ground microbial communities.