Microbial diversity of soils of the Sand fynbos
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The soil environment is thought to contain a lot of the earth’s undiscovered biodiversity. The aim of this study was to understand the extent of microbial diversity in the unique ecosystem of the Western Cape’s fynbos biome. It is known that many processes give rise to this immense microbial diversity in soil. In addition the aim was to link microbial diversity with the soils physio-chemical properties as well as the plant community’s structure. Molecular methods especially automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) was used in the study. The most important property of environmental DNA intended for molecular ecology studies and other downstream applications is purity from humic acids and phenolic compounds. These compounds act as PCR inhibitors and need to be removed during the DNA extraction protocol. The fist goal in the study was to develop an effective DNA extraction protocol by using cationic locculation of humic acids. The combination of cationic flocculation with CuCl2 and the addition of PVPP and KCl resulted in a high yield of DNA, suitable for PCR amplification with bacterial and fungal specific primers. Determining the reproducibility and accuracy of ARISA and ARISA-PCR was important because these factors have an important influence on the results and effectiveness of these techniques. Primer sets for automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis, ITS4/ITS5, were assessed for the characterization of the fungal communities in the fynbos soil. The primer set delivered reproducible ARISA profiles for the fungal community composition with little variation observed between ARISAPCR’s. ARISA proved useful for the assessment and comparison of fungal diversity in ecological samples. The soil community composition of both fungal and bacterial groups in the Sand fynbos was characterized. Soil from 4 different Sand fynbos sites was compared to investigate diversity of eubacterial and fungal groups at the local as well as a the landscape scale. A molecular approach was used for the isolation of total soil genetic DNA. The 16S-23S intergenic spacer region from the bacterial rRNA operon was amplified when performing bacterial ARISA from total soil community DNA (BARISA). Correspondingly, the internal transcribed spacers, ITS1, ITS2 and the 5.8S rRNA gene from the fungal rRNA operon were amplified when undertaking fungal ARISA (F-ARISA). The community structure from different samples and sites were statistically analysed. ARISA data was used to evaluate different species accumulation and estimation models for fungal and bacterial communities and to predict the total community richness. Diversity, evenness and dominance were the microbial communities were used to describe the extent of microbial iversity of the fynbos soils. The spatial ordination of the bacterial and fungal species richness and diversity was considered by determining the species area relationship and beta diversity of both communities. The correlation between the soil physio-chemical properties was determined. The plant community structure data was correlated with the fungal and the bacterial community structure. The results indicated that bacterial species numbers and diversity were continually higher at the local scale. Fungi however showed higher species turnover at the landscape scale. Bacterial community structure showed stronger links to the plant community structure whereas the fungi community structure conformed to spatial separation patterns. To further investigate the diversity of soil microbes the potential of genus specific primes was investigated. The genus Penicillium is widespread in the soil environment and the extent of its diversity and distribution is however not. For this reason Penicillium was chosen as a model organism. To expand the insight into the diversity of Penicillium species in the fynbos soil ecosystem, a rapid group specific molecular approach would be useful. Penicillium specific primers targeting the 18S rRNA ITS gene region were evaluated. Fungal specific primers ITS4 and ITS5, targeting the internal transcribed region (ITS) were used to target Penicillium specific in the soil sample. Nested PCR, using primer Pen-10 and ITS5, was then utilized to target Penicillium species specifically. The discrimination of Penicillium species was possible due to length heterogeneity of this gene region. Eight different peaks was detected in the soil sample with ARISA and eight different species could be isolated on growth media. The technique proved useful for the detection and quantification of Penicillium species in the soil.