Microbial community structure across grazing treatments and environmental gradients in the Serengeti

Bo Maxwell Stevens, Derek Lee Sonderegger, Nancy Collins Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


As one of the last remaining naturally grazed ecosystems on Earth, the Serengeti National Park is an ideal location to study the influence of migratory mammals on the structure of microbial communities and the factors that generate biogeography of soil microbes. Furthermore, volcanic inputs generate environmental gradients that may also structure microbial communities. We studied 16S rRNA amplicons in a 13-year herbivore removal experiment to examine the influence of grazing and environmental gradients on the natural distribution of soil microbes. Removal of mammalian herbivores shifted microbial community structure, with 31 taxa that were significant indicator taxa of the ungrazed treatment and three taxa that were indicators of the grazed treatment. The abundance of many taxa were correlated with soil texture, phosphorus, iron, calcium and rainfall, and the evenness of taxa within samples was also correlated with these variables. Bayesian general linear mixed effects models with single predictors of multiple, highly correlated variables of beta diversity were consistent with a significant, but weak (2%), effect of grazing, and stronger effects of phosphorus (14%). Beta diversity of microbial communities was greater in grazed than in ungrazed plots; suggesting that the impacts of grazing on community assembly of microbes results from deterministic environmental filtering caused by the influence of herbivores on plant communities and soil properties rather than stochastic dispersal via herds of large mammals. These herbivore effects are superimposed on deterministic environmental filtering by natural soil and precipitation gradients across the Serengeti. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-56
Number of pages12
JournalSoil Ecology Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Community ecology
  • Grazing
  • Phosphorus
  • Serengeti National Park
  • Soil bacteria
  • Soil texture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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