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Temperature and Precipitation Drive Elevational Patterns of Microbial Beta Diversity in Alpine Grasslands


Understanding the mechanisms underlying biodiversity patterns is a central issue in ecology, while how temperature and precipitation jointly control the elevational patterns of microbes is understudied. Here, we studied the effects of temperature, precipitation and their interactions on the alpha and beta diversity of soil archaea and bacteria in alpine grasslands along an elevational gradient of 4300–5200 m on the Tibetan Plateau. Alpha diversity was examined on the basis of species richness and evenness, and beta diversity was quantified with the recently developed metric of local contributions to beta diversity (LCBD). Typical alpine steppe and meadow ecosystems were distributed below and above 4850 m, respectively, which was consistent with the two main constraints of mean annual temperature (MAT) and mean annual precipitation (MAP). Species richness and evenness showed decreasing elevational patterns in archaea and nonsignificant or U-shaped patterns in bacteria. The LCBD of both groups exhibited significant U-shaped elevational patterns, with the lowest values occurring at 4800 m. For the three diversity metrics, soil pH was the primary explanatory variable in archaea, explaining over 20.1% of the observed variation, whereas vegetation richness, total nitrogen and the K/Al ratio presented the strongest effects on bacteria, with relative importance values of 16.1%, 12.5% and 11.6%, respectively. For the microbial community composition of both archaea and bacteria, the moisture index showed the dominant effect, explaining 17.6% of the observed variation, followed by MAT and MAP. Taken together, temperature and precipitation exerted considerable indirect effects on microbial richness and evenness through local environmental and energy supply-related variables, such as vegetation richness, whereas temperature exerted a larger direct influence on LCBD and the community composition. Our findings highlighted the profound influence of temperature and precipitation interactions on microbial beta diversity in alpine grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau.

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We are grateful to Conghai Han for soil sample collection.


This research was supported by grants from the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program (STEP) (2019QZKK0503), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41871066, 41471055), the Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA20050101).

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Xiaoqin Yang: conceptualization, investigation, validation, data analyzation, writing-original draft, writing-review & editing. Jianjun Wang: conceptualization, validation, formal analysis and methodology, writing-review & editing. Gengxin Zhang: supervision, resources, funding acquisition, conceptualization, validation, writing-review & editing. Yue Li: data analyzation. Yibo Yang: data curation, writing-review & editing. Bin Niu, Qiuyu Chen, Yilun Hu, Lili Song: writing-review & editing. All co-authors participated in discussions and revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jianjun Wang or Gengxin Zhang.

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Yang, X., Li, Y., Niu, B. et al. Temperature and Precipitation Drive Elevational Patterns of Microbial Beta Diversity in Alpine Grasslands. Microb Ecol (2021).

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  • Soil microbes
  • Elevational gradient
  • Temperature
  • Precipitation
  • LCBD
  • Community composition