Multiple mechanisms control bacterial community structure but two in particular, the "legacy" of past environmental conditions, and the "priming" of bacteria to respond to seasonal or reoccurring fluctuations in resources, have the potential to determine both bacterial communities, as well as, temporal shifts in active bacterial taxa. To begin to evaluate the legacy effects of resources on microbial communities, we added four limiting resources annually (i.e., water only; C-mannitol + water; N-NH4NO3 + water; and C, N + water) and measured shifts in bacterial community composition after seven years in a cold desert ecosystem in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Further, to investigate the ecological significance of priming, we conducted a series of stable isotope probing experiments (i.e., 18O-DNA SIP with 18O-labeled water, 13C-DNA SIP with 13C-labeled mannitol, 15N-DNA with 15N- NH4NO3, and a combined C and N SIP) and characterized the responding (i.e., isotopically labeled) and seed bank (i.e., unlabeled) bacterial communities. We performed each of the SIPs in soil microcosms corresponding to a single resource manipulation (e.g., 13C-labeled mannitol in C addition soils). We hypothesized that all long-term additions of nutrients and water will lead to a distinct bacterial community—a legacy effect due to the nutrient and water impoverished state of Antarctica soils. We also hypothesized that the stronger the legacy effects demonstrated by a specific community the more adapted or primed bacterial species will be to take advantage of the resource and respond. As hypothesized, resource additions created distinct bacterial legacy but to different degrees among the treatments. The extent of the resource legacy effects was greatest in the CN, intermediate in water and N, and lowest in C communities relative to the control communities, suggesting that C induced changes in communities were intensified by tandem N additions and that water alone created a more distinct legacy than water and C additions combined. Contrary to our hypothesis, the stronger the legacy effects, the less adapted or primed the community was to take advantage of resource additions. For example, the CN treatment that induced the greatest effect on bacterial communities had the lowest number of species (20.9%) in common between the responding and seed bank communities. This inverse relationship may be due to only two species (i.e., Arthrobacter, Actinobacteria and Massilia, Betaproteobacteria) really being primed to take advantage of CN and these species constituting over 75% of the seed bank community. Water, N, and C additions had similar levels of priming with 38.4%, 41.4%, and 36.3% of the responding species being present in the seed bank community, respectively. But of these three treatments, only the priming with water resulted in a unique responding community, suggesting that water, a universal bacterial resource, was enough to prime bacteria. Furthermore, water generates the most diverse responding community of all the resources with stemming from all of the fourteen dominant phyla. We did find patterns of ecological coherence among the responders, especially in the major responders (i.e., responders that increased in relative recovery by at least ten-fold). These responders were predominantly found in only three phyla (i.e., Actinobacteria, Bacteriodetes, and Gammaproteobacteria) regardless of resource addition. Alternatively minor responders (i.e., responders that increased in relative recovery at least two-fold) were contained in fourteen different phyla with specific taxa stimulated by CN (i.e., Betaproteobacteria) and N and water (i.e., Deltaproteobacteria). Further, resource additions elicited responses from 37% of bacterial species with species specializing on a specific resource (e.g., Chloroflexi) or being a generalist (e.g., Planctomycetes and Gammaproteobacteria). Our results offer the first direct links between legacy and priming effects on bacterial community composition and demonstrate that these mechanisms are not always complimentary leading to the formation of similar communities but may both be essential to maintain the high levels of bacterial diversity. Further, all resources produced elicited responders that were either specialists of generalists demonstrating that even bacteria in the extreme environment of Antarctica respond to pulses of resources.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Antarctica, soil ecology, bacteria, microbial ecology, soil, stable isotope probing, target metagenomics, 454 pyrosequencing