Identifying the microbial taxa that consistently respond to soil warming across time and space

Angela M. Oliverio, Mark A. Bradford, Noah Fierer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Soil microbial communities are the key drivers of many terrestrial biogeochemical processes. However, we currently lack a generalizable understanding of how these soil communities will change in response to predicted increases in global temperatures and which microbial lineages will be most impacted. Here, using high-throughput marker gene sequencing of soils collected from 18 sites throughout North America included in a 100-day laboratory incubation experiment, we identified a core group of abundant and nearly ubiquitous soil microbes that shift in relative abundance with elevated soil temperatures. We then validated and narrowed our list of temperature-sensitive microbes by comparing the results from this laboratory experiment with data compiled from 210 soils representing multiple, independent global field studies sampled across spatial gradients with a wide range in mean annual temperatures. Our results reveal predictable and consistent responses to temperature for a core group of 189 ubiquitous soil bacterial and archaeal taxa, with these taxa exhibiting similar temperature responses across a broad range of soil types. These microbial ‘bioindicators’ are useful for understanding how soil microbial communities respond to warming and to discriminate between the direct and indirect effects of soil warming on microbial communities. Those taxa that were found to be sensitive to temperature represented a wide range of lineages and the direction of the temperature responses were not predictable from phylogeny alone, indicating that temperature responses are difficult to predict from simply describing soil microbial communities at broad taxonomic or phylogenetic levels of resolution. Together, these results lay the foundation for a more predictive understanding of how soil microbial communities respond to soil warming and how warming may ultimately lead to changes in soil biogeochemical processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2117-2129
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • bacteria
  • microbial bioindicators
  • soil
  • temperature
  • warming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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