Effect of soil horizon stratigraphy on the microbial ecology of alpine paleosols

Jonathan M. Young*, Timofey Skvortsov, Brian P. Kelleher, William C. Mahaney, Peeter Somelar, Christopher C.R. Allen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
279 Downloads (Pure)


There is remarkable potential for research at the interface between the earth sciences and environmental microbiology that may lead to advances in our understanding of the role of bacterial communities in the surface or subsurface environment of our planet. One mainstay of sedimentary classification is the concept of differential soil and/or paleosol horizons being the result of primarily physical and chemical weathering, with relatively little understanding of how microbial communities between these stratified horizons differ, if at all. In this study we evaluate the differences in microbial community taxonomy and biogeochemical functional potential between stratified soil horizons in an alpine paleosol environment using next-generation sequencing (NGS) shotgun sequencing. Paleosols represent a unique environment to study the effect of differences soil horizon environments on the microbial community due to their relative isolation, and the fact that three distinct stratified soil horizons can be identified within the top 30 cm of the soil. This enables us to assess variation in microbial community composition that will be relatively distinct from variation due to distance alone. We test the hypothesis that variation in soil community composition is linked to variation in the physical and chemical parameters that define stratigraphy. Multivariate statistical analysis of sequencing reads from soil horizons across five sampling sites revealed that 1223 microbial genera vary significantly and consistently in abundance across stratified soil horizons at class level. Specifically Ktedonobacter, Bacilli and Betaproteobacteria responded most strongly to soil depth. Alpha diversity showed a positive correlation with soil depth. Beta diversity, however, did not differ significantly between horizons. Genes involved in carbohydrate and nitrogen metabolism were found to be more abundant in Ah horizon samples. Closer inspection of carbohydrate metabolism genes revealed that genes involved in CO2 fixation, fermentation and saccharide metabolism decreased in abundance with depth while one‑carbon metabolism increased down profile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1183-1193
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date01 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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