Substrate utilization patterns of desert soil microbial communities in response to xeric and mesic conditions

Vered Saul-Tcherkas, Yosef Steinberger

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26 Scopus citations


The Negev Desert is characterized by low soil moisture and organic matter content and an unpredictable rainfall amount, dispersion, and intensity. Water and nutrient availability are, therefore, the major limiting factors of biological activity in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Plants have developed different ecophysiological adaptations in order to cope with the harsh conditions in this xeric environment, e.g., excretion of salt (Reaumuria negevensis) and chemical compounds (Artemisia sieberi) through the leaves. Microorganisms constitute a major part of these ecosystems' total biomass, and are diverse members of the soil food web, being primarily responsible for breaking down complex organic compounds, which are then recycled. They are also known to be very sensitive to abiotic changes and can time their activity to the environmental conditions. Soil samples were collected monthly from a 0 to 10 cm depth, under the canopies of A. sieberi, Noaea mucronata, and R. negevensis. Samples collected from inter-shrub spaces served as control. CO2 evolution, microbial biomass, microbial functional diversity, and the physiological profile of the community, were determined by MicroResp™ analysis. A significant difference was found between the two dry periods in most of the examined parameters. The values of water, organic matter content, and total soluble nitrogen were higher in soil samples collected in the vicinity of R. negevensis than in samples collected in the vicinity of N. mucronata, A. sieberi, and the open area. A similar trend was found in CO2 evolution, microbial biomass, and H' values, in which soil samples collected beneath the canopies of N. mucronata and R. negevensis and from open area had higher values during the wet periods (which were characterized by a mesic environment) and in samples collected beneath the A. sieberi in the wet 2006 and dry 2007 periods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1882-1893
Number of pages12
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Desert shrubs
  • Functional diversity
  • Microbial community


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