Effects of past and current drought on the composition and diversity of soil microbial communities

Catherine Preece, Erik Verbruggen, Lei Liu, James T. Weedon, Josep Peñuelas

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    135 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2018 Elsevier Ltd Drought is well known to have strong effects on the composition and activity of soil microbial communities, and may be determined by drought history and drought duration, but the characterisation and prediction of these effects remains challenging. This is because soil microbial communities that have previously been exposed to drought may change less in response to subsequent drought events, due to the selection of drought-resistant taxa. We set up a 10-level drought experiment to test the effect of water stress on the composition and diversity of soil bacterial and fungal communities. We also investigated the effect of a previous long-term drought on communities in soils with different historical precipitation regimes. Saplings of the holm oak, Quercus ilex L., were included to assess the impact of plant presence on the effects of the drought treatment. The composition and diversity of the soil microbial communities were analysed using DNA amplicon sequencing of bacterial and fungal markers and the measurement of phospholipid fatty acids. The experimental drought affected the bacterial community much more than the fungal community, decreasing alpha diversity and proportion of total biomass, whereas fungal diversity tended to increase. The experimental drought altered the relative abundances of specific taxa of both bacteria and fungi, and in many cases these effects were modified by the presence of the plant and soil origin. Soils with a history of drought had higher overall bacterial alpha diversity at the end of the experimental drought, presumably because of adaptation of the bacterial community to drought conditions. However, some bacterial taxa (e.g. Chloroflexi) and fungal functional groups (plant pathogens and saprotrophic yeasts) decreased in abundance more in the pre-droughted soils. Our results suggest that soil communities will not necessarily be able to maintain the same functions during more extreme or more frequent future droughts, when functions are influenced by community composition. Drought is likely to continue to affect community composition, even in soils that are acclimated to it, tending to increase the proportion of fungi and reduce the proportion and diversity of bacteria.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)28-39
    JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


    • Drought
    • Fungal:bacterial ratio
    • Legacy effect
    • Mediterranean
    • Quercus ilex


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