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Progressive and retrogressive ecosystem development coincide with soil bacterial community change in a dune system under lowland temperate rainforest in New Zealand



It is established that plant communities show patterns of change linked to progressive and retrogressive stages of ecosystem development. It is not known, however, whether bacterial communities also show similar patterns of change associated with long-term ecosystem development.


We studied soil bacterial communities along a 6,500 year dune chronosequence under lowland temperate rain forest at Haast, New Zealand. Pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes was used to observe structural change in bacterial communities during the process of pedogenesis and ecosystem development.


Bacterial communities showed patterns of change during pedogenesis, with the largest change during the first several hundred years after dune stabilization. The most abundant bacterial taxa were Alphaproteobacteria, Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria. These include taxa most closely related to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and suggest heterotrophic nitrogen input may be important throughout the chronosequence. Changes in bacterial community structure were related to changes in several soil properties, including total phosphorus, C:N ratio, and pH. The Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, Cyanobacteria, Firmicutes, and Betaproteobacteria all showed a general decline in abundance as pedogenesis proceeded, while Acidobacteria, Alphaproteobacteria, and Plantctomycetes tended to increase as soils aged.


There were trends in the dynamics of bacterial community composition and structure in soil during ecosystem development. Bacterial communities changed in ways that appear to be consistent with a model of ecosystem progression and retrogression, perhaps indicating fundamental processes underpin patterns of below and above-ground community change during ecosystem development.

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Thank you to Shankar Shanmugam who helped to create graphs and tables presented in this article. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (1216074).

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Correspondence to Mark A. Williams.

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Responsible Editor: Hans Lambers.

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Jangid, K., Whitman, W.B., Condron, L.M. et al. Progressive and retrogressive ecosystem development coincide with soil bacterial community change in a dune system under lowland temperate rainforest in New Zealand. Plant Soil 367, 235–247 (2013).

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  • Bacterial diversity
  • Haast chronosequence
  • Pedogenesis
  • Soil nutrients
  • Vegetative succession
  • 16S rRNA pyrosequencing