In Colorado, University of Colorado, Boulder researchers compiled the first global atlas of soil bacterial communities and identified a group of around 500 key species that are both common and abundant worldwide. The new study narrows down the immense diversity of soil-dwelling bacteria to a “most wanted” list that will guide future research into the study and manipulation of microorganisms that affect nutrient cycling, soil fertility and other important ecological functions.
To conduct the study, the researchers collected soil samples from 237 different locations across six continents and 18 countries, spanning an entire range of climates from deserts to grasslands to wetlands. Then, they used DNA sequencing to identify the types of bacteria found at each site and determine which species are shared across different types of soil.
The researchers found that just two percent of all bacterial taxa—or around 500 individual species—consistently accounted for almost half of the soil bacterial communities worldwide. Continued research into the identity and function of soil bacteria could potentially lead to agricultural applications in the future.