Effect of warming and drought on grassland microbial communities

Cody S. Sheik, William Howard Beasley, Mostafa S. Elshahed, Xuhui Zhou, Yiqi Luo, Lee R. Krumholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

295 Scopus citations


The soil microbiome is responsible for mediating key ecological processes; however, little is known about its sensitivity to climate change. Observed increases in global temperatures and alteration to rainfall patterns, due to anthropogenic release of greenhouse gases, will likely have a strong influence on soil microbial communities and ultimately the ecosystem services they provide. Therefore, it is vital to understand how soil microbial communities will respond to future climate change scenarios. To this end, we surveyed the abundance, diversity and structure of microbial communities over a 2-year period from a long-term in situ warming experiment that experienced a moderate natural drought. We found the warming treatment and soil water budgets strongly influence bacterial population size and diversity. In normal precipitation years, the warming treatment significantly increased microbial population size 40-150% but decreased diversity and significantly changed the composition of the community when compared with the unwarmed controls. However during drought conditions, the warming treatment significantly reduced soil moisture thereby creating unfavorable growth conditions that led to a 50-80% reduction in the microbial population size when compared with the control. Warmed plots also saw an increase in species richness, diversity and evenness; however, community composition was unaffected suggesting that few phylotypes may be active under these stressful conditions. Our results indicate that under warmed conditions, ecosystem water budget regulates the abundance and diversity of microbial populations and that rainfall timing is critical at the onset of drought for sustaining microbial populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1692-1700
Number of pages9
JournalISME Journal
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr Ed Kessler and the University of Oklahoma for access to the Kessler Farm Field Laboratory, Jessica Sieber for editorial assistance and Dr Boris Wawrik and Dr Liz Karr for use of lab equipment. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Microbial Observatories Program (Grant EF0801858) and the National Academy of Sciences (Grant PGA P280292). Sequence Data: Pyrosequencing data can be accessed through Genbank Sequence Read Archive accession number SRA11007.


  • climate change
  • drought
  • microbial diversity
  • warming


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