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In bacterial diversity, Amazon is a 'desert'; Desert is an 'Amazon'

Ironically, in the diversity of soil bacteria, the otherwise species-rich Amazon is a more like a desert, while the arid desert is a teeming microbial Amazon, researchers have found. Their first-ever continental-scale genetic survey of soil bacteria revealed that the primary factor that seems to govern the diversity of soil bacteria is soil pH. Thus, the acidic soils of topical forests harbor fewer bacterial species than the neutral soils of deserts.

The researchers said that, since soil bacteria play a fundamental role in a vast array of ecological processes, their survey constitutes an initial step in a new research pathway to understanding that role.

Biologists Noah Fierer and Robert Jackson published their findings in the Early Online Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Jan. 9, 2006. Their work was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Mellon Foundation. Fierer, a former post-doctoral scientist at Duke University, is at the University of Colorado; and Jackson is in the Department of Biology and the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke.

"Although soil bacteria have been studied for centuries, fundamental biological questions remain unanswered," said Fierer. "We probably know more about the organisms in the deepest ocean trenches than we know about the organisms living in soil in our backyards.

"We step on soil every day, but few people realize that 'dirt' supports a complex community of microorganisms that plays a critical role on Earth, he said. "The number of bacterial species in a spoonful of soil is likely to exceed the total number of plant species in all of the United States."

According to Jackson, "Microbes are very important for most of the critical processes in nature. They are extremely important for the cycles that make nutrients available to plants and animals; and for much of the respiration that returns carbon back to the atmospher
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
9-Jan-2006


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