Microbial community diversity and composition across a gradient of soil acidity in spruce-fir forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains

Document Type


Publication Date



Anthropogenic deposition of sulfur (S) and nitrogen (N) contributes substantially to soil acidity in some forest regions and hence studies have focused on modeling and quantifying depositions in landscapes. The resulting acidity can change the soil chemical balance, nutrient availability, microbial communities, and at a broader scale, ecosystem functioning. In this study, a 16S PCR-DGGE (polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis) approach was used to measure the bacterial diversity and identify the dominant bacterial species along a soil acidity gradient in high elevation spruce-fir forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP). Sample sites were selected based upon modeled S deposition class (6-14, 15-23, 23-32, and 33-41kgha -1). Collected soils were analyzed for pH, C, N, Ca, Al, S, CEC, and base saturation. Average soil pH in the O, A, and B horizons were 3.6, 3.6 and 3.9, respectively. Modeled S deposition was found to be an unreliable predictor of soil S content as well as most other soil chemical properties. DGGE profiles of bacterial partial 16S rRNA genes revealed minor differences in bacterial diversity while communities were similar, dominated by members of phylum Actinobacteria, Acidobacteria, Planctomycetes, Proteobacteria, and Chloroflexi. Dominance of acidophilic bacterial species, often found in highly acidic environment such as acid-mine drainage and sphagnum bogs, suggests that the poorly buffered soils that are endemic to southern Appalachian spruce-fir forests are saturated with acidity. Our results suggest that stricter air quality standards have not resulted in shift to less acid-tolerant bacteria. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.

Publication Title

Applied Soil Ecology