Light–dark cycles may influence in situ soil bacterial networks and diurnally-sensitive taxa

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Soil bacterial taxa have important functional roles in ecosystems (e.g. nutrient cycling, soil formation, plant health). Many factors influence their assembly and regulation, with land cover types (e.g. open woodlands, grasslands), land use types (e.g. nature reserves, urban green space) and plant–soil feedbacks being well-studied factors. However, changes in soil bacterial communities in situ over light–dark cycles have received little attention, despite many plants and some bacteria having endogenous circadian rhythms that could influence soil bacterial communities. We sampled surface soils in situ across 24-h light–dark cycles (at 00:00, 06:00, 12:00, 18:00) at two land cover types (remnant vegetation vs. cleared, grassy areas) and applied 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing to investigate changes in bacterial communities. We show that land cover type strongly affected soil bacterial diversity, with soils under native vegetation expressing 15.4%–16.4% lower alpha diversity but 4.9%–10.6% greater heterogeneity than soils under cleared vegetation. In addition, we report time-dependent and site-specific changes in bacterial network complexity and between 598–922 ASVs showing significant changes in relative abundance across times. Native site node degree (bacterial interactions) at the phylum level was 16.0% higher in the early morning than in the afternoon/evening. Our results demonstrate for the first time that light–dark cycles have subtle yet important effects on soil bacterial communities in situ and that land cover influences these dynamics. We provide a new view of soil microbial ecology and suggest that future studies should consider the time of day when sampling soil bacteria.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11018
Number of pages18
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • bacterial ecology
  • biodiversity
  • circadian rhythm
  • land cover
  • soil microbiome


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