In Situ Spatial Patterns of Soil Bacterial Populations, Mapped at Multiple Scales, in an Arable Soil

N. Nunan, K. Wu, I.M. Young, J.W. Crawford, K. Ritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Citations (Scopus)


Very little is known about the spatial organization of soil microbes across scales that are relevant both to microbial function and to field-based processes. The spatial distributions of microbes and microbially mediated activity have a high intrinsic variability. This can present problems when trying to quantify the effects of disturbance, management practices, or climate change on soil microbial systems and attendant function. A spatial sampling regime was implemented in an arable field. Cores of undisturbed soil were sampled from a 3 × 3 × 0.9 m volume of soil (topsoil and subsoil) and a biological thin section, in which the in situ distribution of bacteria could be quantified, prepared from each core. Geostatistical analysis was used to quantify the nature of spatial structure from micrometers to meters and spatial point pattern analysis to test for deviations from complete spatial randomness of mapped bacteria. Spatial structure in the topsoil was only found at the microscale (micrometers), whereas evidence for nested scales of spatial structure was found in the subsoil (at the microscale, and at the centimeter to meter scale). Geostatistical ranges of spatial structure at the micro scale were greater in the topsoil and tended to decrease with depth in the subsoil. Evidence for spatial aggregation in bacteria was stronger in the topsoil and also decreased with depth in the subsoil, though extremely high degrees of aggregation were found at very short distances in the deep subsoil. The data suggest that factors that regulate the distribution of bacteria in the subsoil operate at two scales, in contrast to one scale in the topsoil, and that bacterial patches are larger and more prevalent in the topsoil.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-305
Number of pages10
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date30 Jul 2002
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2002


  • spatial structure
  • arable soil
  • point pattern
  • Undisturbed soil
  • spatial aggregation


Dive into the research topics of 'In Situ Spatial Patterns of Soil Bacterial Populations, Mapped at Multiple Scales, in an Arable Soil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this