BACKGROUND: Exposure to a diverse environmental microbiome is thought to play an important role in “educating” the immune system and facilitating competitive exclusion of pathogens to maintain human health. Vegetation and soil are key sources of airborne microbiota––the aerobiome. A limited number of studies have attempted to characterize the dynamics of near surface green space aerobiomes, and no studies to date have investigated these dynamics from a vertical perspective. Vertical stratification in the aerobiome could have important implications for public health and for the design, engineering, and management of urban green spaces. OBJECTIVES: The primary objectives of this study were to: a) assess whether significant vertical stratification in bacterial species richness and evenness (alpha diversity) of the aerobiome occurred in a parkland habitat in Adelaide, South Australia; b) assess whether significant compositional differences (beta diversity) between sampling heights occurred; and c) to preliminarily assess whether there were significant altitudinal differences in potentially pathogenic and beneficial bacterial taxa. METHODS: We combined an innovative columnar sampling method at soil level, 0.0, 0.5, 1.0, and 2:0 m, using passive petri dish sampling to collect airborne bacteria. We used a geographic information system (GIS) to select study sites, and we used high-throughput sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene to assess whether significant vertical stratification of the aerobiome occurred. RESULTS: Our results provide evidence of vertical stratification in both alpha and beta (compositional) diversity of airborne bacterial communities, with diversity decreasing roughly with height. We also found significant vertical stratification in potentially pathogenic and beneficial bacterial taxa. DISCUSSION: Although additional research is needed, our preliminary findings point to potentially different exposure attributes that may be contingent on human height and activity type. Our results lay the foundations for further research into the vertical characteristics of urban green space aerobiomes and their implications for public health and urban planning. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP7807.
- vertical stratification
- Urban green space
- airborne bacterial communities