The influence of soil development on the depth distribution and structure of soil microbial communities

Mary Cathrine Leewis, Corey R. Lawrence, Marjorie S. Schulz, Malak M. Tfaily, Christian Orlando Ayala-Ortiz, Gilberto E. Flores, Rachel Mackelprang, Jack W. McFarland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Although it has been shown that the interaction of climate and time shape the dynamics of soil organic matter (SOM) storage and preservation in soil, the role of soil microbial communities in this dynamic remains unclear. Microbial communities are present throughout soil profiles and likely play critical roles in SOM and nutrient cycling, however the influence of other factors such as soil development (i.e., age) and the composition SOM on microbial community variation with depth has yet to be quantified. Improving our understanding of the relationship between soil development, soil depth, and microbial communities may provide insight to the critical role they play in cycling and preservation of SOM, as well as more mechanistic predictions of the response of soil communities to change, such as landscape-scale changes in available moisture or temperature regimes. Here we compare soils spanning a soil age by climate gradient (i.e., climo-chronosequence) to better understand the mechanisms which influence soil microbial community structure and the molecular composition of SOM. While we observed little depth-dependence in metrics of microbial community structure (i.e., composition, diversity, dissimilarity) across the range of soil development under a wetter climate, we found significant depth-dependent changes in community metrics under a drier climate, which became more pronounced as soils became older. This shift in bacterial and archaeal community structure and diversity is most apparent below a clay-rich argillic horizon formed in the older, drier soils. The molecular composition of SOM as measured by high resolution mass spectrometry (i.e., FTICR MS) also exhibited similar shifts in composition with soil depth and age. Our results highlight how soil moisture shapes the interaction of soil development, SOM, and microbial community composition. Differences in the moisture regime between our two study sites drive differences in biogeochemical depth gradients and subsequent variation in soil microbes and SOM. This suggests that knowledge of not just the pedogenic trajectory of soil development, but also the spatial position relative to distinct pedogenic features, are important for explaining variations in the depth-dependencies of microbial communities and associated SOM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108808
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • Argillic horizon
  • Microbial community structure
  • Microbial ecology
  • Soil carbon
  • Soil depth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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