Soil abiotic variables are more important than Salicaceae phylogeny or habitat specialization in determining soil microbial community structure

Sonya Erlandson, Xiaojing Wei, Jessica Savage, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Kabir Peay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Predicting the outcome of interspecific interactions is a central goal in ecology. The diverse soil microbes that interact with plants are shaped by different aspects of plant identity, such as phylogenetic history and functional group. Species interactions may also be strongly shaped by abiotic environment, but there is mixed evidence on the relative importance of environment, plant identity and their interactions in shaping soil microbial communities. Using a multifactor, split-plot field experiment, we tested how hydrologic context, and three facets of Salicaceae plant identity—habitat specialization, phylogenetic distance and species identity—influence soil microbial community structure. Analysis of microbial community sequencing data with generalized dissimilarity models showed that abiotic environment explained up to 25% of variation in community composition of soil bacteria, fungi and archaea, while Salicaceae identity influenced <1% of the variation in community composition of soil microbial taxa. Multivariate linear models indicated that the influence of Salicaceae identity was small, but did contribute to differentiation of soil microbes within treatments. Moreover, results from a microbial niche breadth analysis show that soil microbes in wetlands have more specialized host associations than soil microbes in drier environments—showing that abiotic environment changed how plant identity correlated with soil microbial communities. This study demonstrates the predominance of major abiotic factors in shaping soil microbial community structure; the significance of abiotic context to biotic influence on soil microbes; and the utility of field experiments to disentangling the abiotic and biotic factors that are thought to be most essential for soil microbial communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2007-2024
Number of pages18
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank staff at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve and Charlotte Riggs for soil data. Funding was provided by Cedar Creek NSF Long-term Ecological Research programme (DEB-1234162) and Stanford University Department of Biology.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • archaea
  • bacteria
  • community ecology
  • fungi
  • soil microbial communities
  • species interactions


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