Patterns in the spatial distribution of organisms provide important information about mechanisms that regulate the diversity of life and the complexity of ecosystems1,2. Although microorganisms may comprise much of the Earth's biodiversity3,4 and have critical roles in biogeochemistry and ecosystem functioning5,6,7, little is known about their spatial diversification. Here we present quantitative estimates of microbial community turnover at local and regional scales using the largest spatially explicit microbial diversity data set available (> 106 sample pairs). Turnover rates were small across large geographical distances, of similar magnitude when measured within distinct habitats, and did not increase going from one vegetation type to another. The taxa–area relationship of these terrestrial microbial eukaryotes was relatively flat (slope z = 0.074) and consistent with those reported in aquatic habitats8,9. This suggests that despite high local diversity, microorganisms may have only moderate regional diversity. We show how turnover patterns can be used to project taxa–area relationships up to whole continents. Taxa dissimilarities across continents and between them would strengthen these projections. Such data do not yet exist, but would be feasible to collect.
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We thank F. Ayala, E. Berlow, B. Bohannan, R. Condit, J. Harte, A. Hastings, C. Horner-Devine, J. Hughes, N. Martinez and I. Wright for comments on the manuscript, and U. Malvadkar, M. Holyoak and B. Melbourne for discussions. The authors are grateful to M. Holley and M. Raison for technical assistance with the ARISA analyses. The project was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council of the NSW Government. J.L.G. acknowledges the NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Biological Informatics for financial support.Authors' contributions All authors contributed intellectual input to the project. The original concept, sample design and collections were carried out by A.J.H., M.W., I.O., D.B., M.D., M.G. and A.J.B. The first three authors (J.L.G., A.J.H. and M.W.) took the lead in the analysis and writing up of this work.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
Photographs of the four land systems sampled in Sturt National Park. (PDF 200 kb)
Diagram illustrating the sampling scheme within Sturt National Park. (PDF 258 kb)
Details of automated rRNA intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) molecular techniques. (DOC 39 kb)
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Green, J., Holmes, A., Westoby, M. et al. Spatial scaling of microbial eukaryote diversity. Nature 432, 747–750 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03034
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