Amazonian anthrosols support similar microbial communities that differ distinctly from those extant in adjacent, unmodified soils of the same mineralogy

Julie M. Grossman, Brendan E. O'Neill, Siu Mui Tsai, Biqing Liang, Eduardo Neves, Johannes Lehmann, Janice E. Thies

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150 Scopus citations


We compared the microbial community composition in soils from the Brazilian Amazon with two contrasting histories; anthrosols and their adjacent non-anthrosol soils of the same mineralogy. The anthrosols, also known as the Amazonian Dark Earths or terra preta, were managed by the indigenous pre-Colombian Indians between 500 and 8,700 years before present and are characterized by unusually high cation exchange capacity, phosphorus (P), and calcium (Ca) contents, and soil carbon pools that contain a high proportion of incompletely combusted biomass as biochar or black carbon (BC). We sampled paired anthrosol and unmodified soils from four locations in the Manaus, Brazil, region that differed in their current land use and soil type. Community DNA was extracted from sampled soils and characterized by use of denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism. DNA bands of interest from Bacteria and Archaea DGGE gels were cloned and sequenced. In cluster analyses of the DNA fingerprints, microbial communities from the anthrosols grouped together regardless of current land use or soil type and were distinct from those in their respective, paired adjacent soils. For the Archaea, the anthrosol communities diverged from the adjacent soils by over 90%. A greater overall richness was observed for Bacteria sequences as compared with those of the Archaea. Most of the sequences obtained were novel and matched those in databases at less than 98% similarity. Several sequences obtained only from the anthrosols grouped at 93% similarity with the Verrucomicrobia, a genus commonly found in rice paddies in the tropics. Sequences closely related to Proteobacteria and Cyanobacteria sp. were recovered only from adjacent soil samples. Sequences related to Pseudomonas, Acidobacteria, and Flexibacter sp. were recovered from both anthrosols and adjacent soils. The strong similarities among the microbial communities present in the anthrosols for both the Bacteria and Archaea suggests that the microbial community composition in these soils is controlled more strongly by their historical soil management than by soil type or current land use. The anthrosols had consistently higher concentrations of incompletely combusted organic black carbon material (BC), higher soil pH, and higher concentrations of P and Ca compared to their respective adjacent soils. Such characteristics may help to explain the longevity and distinctiveness of the anthrosols in the Amazonian landscape and guide us in recreating soils with sustained high fertility in otherwise nutrient-poor soils in modern times.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-205
Number of pages14
JournalMicrobial ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 25 2010


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