Towards the biogeography of butyrate-producing bacteria

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Aim: Butyrate-producing bacteria are found in many outdoor ecosystems and host organisms, including humans, and are vital to ecosystem functionality and human health. These bacteria ferment organic matter, producing the short-chain fatty acid butyrate. However, few (if any) studies have examined the macroecological influences on their large-scale biogeographical distribution. Here we aimed to characterise their global biogeography together with key explanatory climatic, geographic, and physicochemical variables.

Location: Global, and the Australian continent

Time period: 2005-2020

Major taxa studied: Butyrate-producing bacteria

Methods: We developed new normalised butyrate production capacity (BPC) indices derived from global metagenomic (n=13,078) and Australia-wide soil 16S rRNA (n=1,331) data, using Geographic Information System (GIS) and modelling techniques to detail their ecological and biogeographical associations.

Results: The highest BPC scores were found in anoxic and fermentative environments, including the human and non-human animal gut, and in some plant-soil systems. Within plant-soil systems, roots and rhizospheres had the highest BPC scores. Among soil samples, geographic and climatic variables had the strongest overall influence on BPC scores, with human influence also making key contributions. Higher BPC scores were in soils from seasonally productive sandy rangelands, temperate rural residential areas, and sites with moderate-to-high soil iron concentrations.

Main conclusions: Abundances of butyrate-producing bacteria in outdoor soils follow complex ecological patterns influenced by geography, climate, soil chemistry, and hydrological fluctuations. Human population density and soil iron also play substantial roles, and their effects are dependent on a combination of ecological variables. These new biogeographical insights further our understanding of the global ecology patterns of butyrate-producing bacteria, with implications for emerging microbially-focussed ecological and human health policies.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherbioRxiv, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Number of pages37
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2023


  • butyrate
  • ecosystem services
  • gut microbiome
  • metagenomics
  • microbial ecology
  • soil microbiota


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