JOURNAL ARTICLE

Distinct bacterial communities dominate tropical and temperate zone leaf litter

Mincheol Kim, Woo-Sung Kim, Binu M Tripathi, Jonathan Adams
Microbial Ecology 2014, 67 (4): 837-48
24549745
Little is known of the bacterial community of tropical rainforest leaf litter and how it might differ from temperate forest leaf litter and from the soils underneath. We sampled leaf litter in a similarly advanced stage of decay, and for comparison, we also sampled the surface layer of soil, at three tropical forest sites in Malaysia and four temperate forest sites in South Korea. Illumina sequencing targeting partial bacterial 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) gene revealed that the bacterial community composition of both temperate and tropical litter is quite distinct from the soils underneath. Litter in both temperate and tropical forest was dominated by Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria, while soil is dominated by Acidobacteria and, to a lesser extent, Proteobacteria. However, bacterial communities of temperate and tropical litter clustered separately from one another on an ordination. The soil bacterial community structures were also distinctive to each climatic zone, suggesting that there must be a climate-specific biogeographical pattern in bacterial community composition. The differences were also found in the level of diversity. The temperate litter has a higher operational taxonomic unit (OTU) diversity than the tropical litter, paralleling the trend in soil diversity. Overall, it is striking that the difference in community composition between the leaf litter and the soil a few centimeters underneath is about the same as that between leaf litter in tropical and temperate climates, thousands of kilometers apart. However, one substantial difference was that the leaf litter of two tropical forest sites, Meranti and Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM), was overwhelmingly dominated by the single genus Burkholderia, at 37 and 23 % of reads, respectively. The 454 sequencing result showed that most Burkholderia species in tropical leaf litter belong to nonpathogenic "plant beneficial" lineages. The differences from the temperate zone in the bacterial community of tropical forest litter may be partly a product of its differing chemistry, although the unvarying climate might also play a role, as might interactions with other organisms such as fungi. The single genus Burkholderia may be seen as potentially playing a major role in decomposition and nutrient cycling in tropical forests, but apparently not in temperate forests.

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