Biological Soil Crusts from Different Soil Substrates Harbor Distinct Bacterial Groups with the Potential to Produce Exopolysaccharides and Lipopolysaccharides


Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) play an important role in improving soil stability and resistance to erosion by promoting aggregation of soil particles. During initial development, biocrusts are dominated by bacteria. Some bacterial members of the biocrusts can contribute to the formation of soil aggregates by producing exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides that act as “glue” for soil particles. However, little is known about the dynamics of “soil glue” producers during the initial development of biocrusts. We hypothesized that different types of initial biocrusts harbor distinct producers of adhesive polysaccharides. To investigate this, we performed a microcosm experiment, cultivating biocrusts on two soil substrates. High-throughput shotgun sequencing was used to obtain metagenomic information on microbiomes of bulk soils from the beginning of the experiment, and biocrusts sampled after 4 and 10 months of incubation. We discovered that the relative abundance of genes involved in the biosynthesis of exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides increased in biocrusts compared with bulk soils. At the same time, communities of potential “soil glue” producers that were highly similar in bulk soils underwent differentiation once biocrusts started to develop. In the bulk soils, the investigated genes were harbored mainly by Betaproteobacteria, whereas in the biocrusts, the major potential producers of adhesive polysaccharides were, aside from Alphaproteobacteria, either Cyanobacteria or Chloroflexi and Acidobacteria. Overall, our results indicate that the potential to form exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides is an important bacterial trait for initial biocrusts and is maintained despite the shifts in bacterial community composition during biocrust development.

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The authors wish to thank Gudrun Hufnagel for measuring the biochemical parameters, Christoph Schmidt and Abilash Chakravarthy Durai Raj for bioinformatical advice, and Viviane Radl and Antonios Michas for constructive feedback on the previous version of the manuscript. This study was performed as part of the Transregional Collaborative Research Centre 38 (SFB/TRR 38), which is financially supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Bonn) and the Brandenburg Ministry of Science, Research and Culture (MWFK, Potsdam), and the project “The influence of agricultural management practices on microbial functions and networks in biological soil crusts” funded by the DFG in frame of the DFG-Nachwuchsakademie “Agrarökosystemforschung: Bodenressourcen und Pflanzenproduktion.” The authors also gratefully acknowledge the funding provided by the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE).

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Correspondence to Stefanie Schulz.

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Cania, B., Vestergaard, G., Kublik, S. et al. Biological Soil Crusts from Different Soil Substrates Harbor Distinct Bacterial Groups with the Potential to Produce Exopolysaccharides and Lipopolysaccharides. Microb Ecol 79, 326–341 (2020).

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  • Biological soil crusts
  • Exopolysaccharides
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Microbiome
  • Metagenomics