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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Metatranscriptomics reveals contrasting effects of elevation on the activity of bacteria and bacterial viruses in soil

Merges, Dominik; Schmidt, Alexandra; Schmitt, Imke; Neuschulz, Eike Lena; Dal Grande, Francesco; Balint, Miklos


Soil microbial diversity affects ecosystem functioning and global biogeochemical cycles. Soil bacterial communities catalyse a diversity of biogeochemical reactions and have thus sparked considerable scientific interest. One driver of bacterial community dynamics in natural ecosystems has so far been largely neglected: the predator-prey interactions between bacterial viruses (bacteriophages) and bacteria. To generate ground level knowledge on environmental drivers of these particular predator-prey dynamics, we propose an activity-based ecological framework to simultaneous capture community dynamics of bacteria and bacteriophages in soils. An ecological framework and specifically the analyses of community dynamics across latitudinal and elevational gradients have been widely used in ecology to understand community-wide responses of innumerable taxa to environmental change, in particular to climate. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the activity of bacteria and bacteriophages codeclines across an elevational gradient. We used metatranscriptomics to investigate bacterial and bacteriophage activity patterns at five sites across 400 elevational metres in the Swiss Alps in 2015 and 2017. We found that metabolic activity (transcription levels) of bacteria declined significantly with increasing elevation, but activity of bacteriophages did not. We showed that bacteriophages are consistently active in soil along the entire gradient, making bacteriophage activity patterns divergent from that of their putative bacterial prey. Future efforts will be necessary to link the environment-activity relationship to predator-prey dynamics, and to understand the magnitude of viral contributions to carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling when infection causes bacterial cell death, a process that may represent an overlooked component of soil biogeochemical cycles.


altitudinal gradient; bacteriophage; Caudovirales; ecosystem functioning; environmental change; microbial interactions; predator-prey dynamics

Published in

Molecular Ecology
2023, Volume: 32, number: 23, pages: 6552-6563
Publisher: WILEY

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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