Colloquium paper: microbes on mountainsides: contrasting elevational patterns of bacterial and plant diversity.

Abstract

The study of elevational diversity gradients dates back to the foundation of biogeography. Although elevational patterns of plant and animal diversity have been studied for centuries, such patterns have not been reported for microorganisms and remain poorly understood. Here, in an effort to assess the generality of elevational diversity patterns, we examined soil bacterial and plant diversity along an elevation gradient. To gain insight into the forces that structure these patterns, we adopted a multifaceted approach to incorporate information about the structure, diversity, and spatial turnover of montane communities in a phylogenetic context. We found that observed patterns of plant and bacterial diversity were fundamentally different. While bacterial taxon richness and phylogenetic diversity decreased monotonically from the lowest to highest elevations, plants followed a unimodal pattern, with a peak in richness and phylogenetic diversity at mid-elevations. At all elevations bacterial communities had a tendency to be phylogenetically clustered, containing closely related taxa. In contrast, plant communities did not exhibit a uniform phylogenetic structure across the gradient: they became more overdispersed with increasing elevation, containing distantly related taxa. Finally, a metric of phylogenetic beta-diversity showed that bacterial lineages were not randomly distributed, but rather exhibited significant spatial structure across the gradient, whereas plant lineages did not exhibit a significant phylogenetic signal. Quantifying the influence of sample scale in intertaxonomic comparisons remains a challenge. Nevertheless, our findings suggest that the forces structuring microorganism and macroorganism communities along elevational gradients differ.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0801920105

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