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Microbes follow Humboldt: temperature drives plant and soil microbial diversity patterns from the Amazon to the Andes

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Andrew T. Nottingham
  • Noah Fierer
  • Benjamin L. Turner
  • Jeanette Whitaker
  • Nick J. Ostle
  • Niall P. McNamara
  • Richard D. Bardgett
  • Jonathan W. Leff
  • Norma Salinas
  • Miles R. Silman
  • Loeske E.B. Kruuk
  • Patrick Meir
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/11/2018
Issue number11
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)2455-2466
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date4/08/18
<mark>Original language</mark>English


More than 200 years ago, Alexander von Humboldt reported that tropical plant species richness decreased with increasing elevation and decreasing temperature. Surprisingly, coordinated patterns in plant, bacterial, and fungal diversity on tropical mountains have not yet been observed, despite the central role of soil microorganisms in terrestrial biogeochemistry and ecology. We studied an Andean transect traversing 3.5 km in elevation to test whether the species diversity and composition of tropical forest plants, soil bacteria, and fungi follow similar biogeographical patterns with shared environmental drivers. We found coordinated changes with elevation in all three groups: species richness declined as elevation increased, and the compositional dissimilarity among communities increased with increased separation in elevation, although changes in plant diversity were larger than in bacteria and fungi. Temperature was the dominant driver of these diversity gradients, with weak influences of edaphic properties, including soil pH. The gradients in microbial diversity were strongly correlated with the activities of enzymes involved in organic matter cycling, and were accompanied by a transition in microbial traits towards slower-growing, oligotrophic taxa at higher elevations. We provide the first evidence of coordinated temperature-driven patterns in the diversity and distribution of three major biotic groups in tropical ecosystems: soil bacteria, fungi, and plants. These findings suggest that interrelated and fundamental patterns of plant and microbial communities with shared environmental drivers occur across landscape scales. These patterns are revealed where soil pH is relatively constant, and have implications for tropical forest communities under future climate change.