Life-history strategies of soil microbial communities in an arid ecosystem

Yongjian Chen, Julia W. Neilson, Priyanka Kushwaha, Raina M. Maier, Albert Barberán

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The overwhelming taxonomic diversity and metabolic complexity of microorganisms can be simplified by a life-history classification; copiotrophs grow faster and rely on resource availability, whereas oligotrophs efficiently exploit resource at the expense of growth rate. Here, we hypothesize that community-level traits inferred from metagenomic data can distinguish copiotrophic and oligotrophic microbial communities. Moreover, we hypothesize that oligotrophic microbial communities harbor more unannotated genes. To test these hypotheses, we conducted metagenomic analyses of soil samples collected from copiotrophic vegetated areas and from oligotrophic bare ground devoid of vegetation in an arid-hyperarid region of the Sonoran Desert, Arizona, USA. Results supported our hypotheses, as we found that multiple ecologically informed life-history traits including average 16S ribosomal RNA gene copy number, codon usage bias in ribosomal genes and predicted maximum growth rate were higher for microbial communities in vegetated than bare soils, and that oligotrophic microbial communities in bare soils harbored a higher proportion of genes that are unavailable in public reference databases. Collectively, our work demonstrates that life-history traits can distill complex microbial communities into ecologically coherent units and highlights that oligotrophic microbial communities serve as a rich source of novel functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-657
Number of pages9
JournalISME Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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