Rodents affect soil microbial communities by burrow architecture, diet composition, and foraging behavior. We examined the effect of desert rodents on nitrogen-fixing bacteria (NFB) communities by identifying bacteria colony-forming units (CFU) and measuring nitrogen fixation rates (ARA), denitrification (DA), and CO2 emission in soil from burrows of three gerbil species differing in diets. Psammomys obesus is folivorous, Meriones crassus is omnivorous, consuming green vegetation and seeds, and Dipodillus dasyurus is predominantly granivorous. We also identified NFB in the digestive tract of each rodent species and in Atriplex halimus and Anabasis articulata, dominant plants at the study site. ARA rates of soil from burrows of the rodent species were similar, and substantially lower than control soil, but rates of DA and CO2 emission differed significantly among burrows. Highest rates of DA and CO2 emission were measured in D. dasyurus burrows and lowest in P. obesus. CFU differed among bacteria isolates, which reflected dietary selection. Strains of cellulolytic representatives of the family Myxococcaceae and the genus Cytophaga dominated burrows of P. obesus, while enteric Bacteroides dominated burrows of D. dasyurus. Burrows of M. crassus contained both cellulolytic and enteric bacteria. Using discriminant function analysis, differences were revealed among burrow soils of all rodent species and control soil, and the two axes accounted for 91 % of the variance in bacterial occurrences. Differences in digestive tract bacterial occurrences were found among these rodent species. Bacterial colonies in P. obesus and M. crassus burrows were related to bacteria of A. articulata, the main plant consumed by both species. In contrast, bacteria colonies in the burrow soil of D. dasyurus were related to bacteria in its digestive tract. We concluded that gerbils play an important role as ecosystem engineers within their burrow environment and affect the microbial complex of the nitrogen-fixing organisms in soils.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Soil Science