Agricultural practices drive biological loads, seasonal patterns and potential pathogens in the aerobiome of a mixed-land-use dryland

Damien R. Finn, Juan Maldonado, Francesca de Martini, Julian Yu, C. Ryan Penton, Rafaela S. Fontenele, Kara Schmidlin, Simona Kraberger, Arvind Varsani, Gillian H. Gile, Bridget Barker, Daniel R. Kollath, Rebecca L. Muenich, Pierre Herckes, Matthew Fraser, Ferran Garcia-Pichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Air carries a diverse load of particulate microscopic biological matter in suspension, either aerosolized or aggregated with dust particles, the aerobiome, which is dispersed by winds from sources to sinks. The aerobiome is known to contain microbes, including pathogens, as well as debris or small-sized propagules from plants and animals, but its variability and composition has not been studied comprehensibly. To gain a dynamic insight into the aerobiome existing over a mixed-use dryland setting, we conducted a biologically comprehensive, year-long survey of its composition and dynamics for particles less than 10 μm in diameter based on quantitative analyses of DNA content coupled to genomic sequencing. Airborne biological loads were more dependent on seasonal events than on meteorological conditions and only weakly correlated with dust loads. Core aerobiome species could be understood as a mixture of high elevation (e.g. Microbacteriaceae, Micrococcaceae, Deinococci), and local plant and soil sources (e.g. Sphingomonas, Streptomyces, Acinetobacter). Despite the mixed used of the land surrounding the sampling site, taxa that contributed to high load events were largely traceable to proximal agricultural practices like cotton and livestock farming. This included not only the predominance of specific crop plant signals over those of native vegetation, but also that of their pathogens (bacterial, viral and eukaryotic). Faecal bacterial loads were also seasonally important, possibly sourced in intensive animal husbandry or manure fertilization activity, and this microbial load was enriched in tetracycline resistance genes. The presence of the native opportunistic pathogen, Coccidioides spp., by contrast, was detected only with highly sensitive techniques, and only rarely. We conclude that agricultural activity exerts a much stronger influence that the native vegetation as a mass loss factor to the land system and as an input to dryland aerobiomes, including in the dispersal of plant, animal and human pathogens and their genetic resistance characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number149239
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Aerobiome
  • Airborne microbes
  • Airborne particulate matter
  • Coarse particles
  • Coccidioides
  • Enterobacteriaceae
  • Mixed land use
  • Pathogens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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