Significant impacts of increasing aridity on the arid soil microbiome

Julia W. Neilson, Katy Califf, Cesar Cardona, Audrey Copeland, Will Van Treuren, Karen L. Josephson, Rob Knight, Jack A. Gilbert, Jay Quade, J. Gregory Caporaso, Raina M. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Global deserts occupy one-third of the Earth's surface and contribute significantly to organic carbon storage, a process at risk in dryland ecosystems that are highly vulnerable to climate-driven ecosystem degradation. The forces controlling desert ecosystem degradation rates are poorly understood, particularly with respect to the relevance of the arid-soil microbiome. Here we document correlations between increasing aridity and soil bacterial and archaeal microbiome composition along arid to hyperarid transects traversing the Atacama Desert, Chile. A metaanalysis reveals that Atacama soil microbiomes exhibit a gradient in composition, are distinct from a broad cross-section of nondesert soils, and yet are similar to three deserts from different continents. Community richness and diversity were significantly positively correlated with soil relative humidity (SoilRH). Phylogenetic composition was strongly correlated with SoilRH, temperature, and electrical conductivity. The strongest and most significant correlations between SoilRH and phylum relative abundance were observed for Acidobacteria, Proteobacteria, Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobia, and Euryarchaeota (Spearman's rank correlation [rs] = 0.81; falsediscovery rate [q] = ≤0.005), characterized by 10- to 300-fold decreases in the relative abundance of each taxon. In addition, network analysis revealed a deterioration in the density of significant associations between taxa along the arid to hyperarid gradient, a pattern that may compromise the resilience of hyperarid communities because they lack properties associated with communities that are more integrated. In summary, results suggest that arid-soil microbiome stability is sensitive to aridity as demonstrated by decreased community connectivity associated with the transition from the arid class to the hyperarid class and the significant correlations observed between soilRH and both diversity and the relative abundances of key microbial phyla typically dominant in global soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00195
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Arid soil microbiome
  • Climate change
  • Desert
  • Desertification
  • Microbial diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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