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A taxa–area relationship for bacteria


A positive power-law relationship between the number of species in an area and the size of that area has been observed repeatedly in plant and animal communities1. This species–area relationship, thought to be one of the few laws in ecology2, is fundamental to our understanding of the distribution of global biodiversity. However, such a relationship has not been reported for bacteria, and little is known regarding the spatial distribution of bacteria, relative to what is known of plants and animals3. Here we describe a taxa–area relationship for bacteria over a scale of centimetres to hundreds of metres in salt marsh sediments. We found that bacterial communities located close together were more similar in composition than communities located farther apart, and we used the decay of community similarity with distance to show that bacteria can exhibit a taxa–area relationship. This relationship was driven primarily by environmental heterogeneity rather than geographic distance or plant composition.

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Figure 1: The taxa–area relationship for salt marsh organisms varied with taxonomic focus (a) and taxonomic resolution (b).
Figure 2: A comparison of z-values for both microbial and macrobial taxa in different ecosystems.


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We are grateful to C. Anderson, H. P. Horz, A. Martiny, S. Reddy, members of M. Bertness' laboratory at Brown University and K. Nusslein's laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for their technical assistance. We thank J. Green, D. Ackerly, P. Ehrlich, D. Relman and D. Petrov for comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. We also thank E. Bathgate, the American Association of University Women, and the National Science Foundation for their support.

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Correspondence to M. Claire Horner-Devine.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information Methods 1

Describes sampling design and includes Supplementary Information Figure S1. (PDF 45 kb)

Supplementary Information Methods 2

Describes the statistical analyses in more detail. This includes Supplementary Information Figure S2, which shows the relationship between pairwise geographic distance between samples and similarity in community composition for bacteria considered at 99%, 97% and 95% similarity. (PDF 79 kb)

Supplementary Information Methods 3

This file describes how data included in Figure 2 were selected. (PDF 126 kb)

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Horner-Devine, M., Lage, M., Hughes, J. et al. A taxa–area relationship for bacteria. Nature 432, 750–753 (2004).

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