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

e as carbon dioxide. They also give off most of the important trace gases in our atmosphere like methane.

"Given this importance, it was really surprising to us that no one had tried to systematically explore the pattern of diversity of soil bacteria on a continent-wide scale. Part of the reason is such a survey is technologically challenging, and it's logistically challenging as well," he said.

In their survey, Fierer and Jackson collected 98 soil samples from across North and South America. They chose research sites in which considerable scientific data had already been collected that would enable them to assess the role of factors such as temperature and rainfall on diversity. These included many of the Long-Term Ecological Reserves in North America, supported by the National Science Foundation. While some of the samples were provided by scientists conducting studies in such research areas, other samples required remote treks through the Amazonian jungle, said Jackson.

The researchers assessed the microbial species diversity of their samples by performing "DNA fingerprinting" that would reveal the diversity of a particular kind of DNA called ribosomal DNA. This DNA is known to differ considerably among bacterial species, serving as a type of genetic "bar code" that can be used to differentiate species. While the measure did not tell the researchers how many microbial species existed in the samples, it did give them a comparative measure of such diversity among the samples, said Jackson. The analyses revealed large differences among the samples in terms of diversity. The scientists then correlated that diversity with environmental factors, including latitude, temperature and soil pH.

"As biologists and ecologists, the factors that we think of typically as controlling plant and animal diversity didn't seem to correlate with the diversity of microbes," said Jackson. "Instead, the factor that correlated best with diversity was the pH o
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
9-Jan-2006


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