The biogeography and functional ecology of tropical soil microorganisms
MetadataShow full item record
Tropical ecosystems are some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on the planet. These ecosystems are also some of the most threatened worldwide and this is largely driven by agricultural expansion. Predicting biotic responses to such forms of environmental change is a challenge that requires an increased understanding of the factors structuring these communities in both pristine environments as well as environments that are undergoing environmental change. Studying patterns in the spatial structure of communities can provide important insights into ecological and evolutionary processes structuring communities. Combining such approaches with analyses of the distribution of activity and the genomic content of communities can help us better understand relationships between community structure and function. I explore the topics of microbial spatial scaling, activity, and gene content in both pristine tropical rainforest environments as well as tropical regions undergoing agricultural conversion. I first pose a fundamental question in microbial spatial ecology, i.e. why do microorganisms tend to show weaker spatial patterns than macro-organisms? I show that trees and soil microorganisms differ in the rates at which their communities change over space. I test the hypothesis that low rates of spatial turnover in microbial communities are an artifact of how we assess the community structure of microbial communities and show that sampling extent is likely the main driver of these differences. Next, I examine a Central Africa ecosystem that is undergoing conversion to agriculture. I show that there are numerous indications of biotic homogenization in these soil microbial communities and that the active fraction of the community shows a more pronounced response to environmental change. Finally, I examine two microbial processes in the Amazon Basin that have been reported to change following conversion to agriculture: methane production and methane consumption. I investigate changes to the genes and taxa involved in these processes and propose a new conceptual framework for how these processes might be changing. Work in this thesis contributes to a broader understanding of the spatial and functional ecology of tropical microorganisms and offers perspectives useful for those interested in predicting and mitigating the impacts of environmental change on these communities.