Low abundant soil bacteria can be metabolically versatile and fast growing

V. Kurm*, W.H. van der Putten, W. de Boer, Suzanne Naus-Wiezer, W.H.G. Hol

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


The abundance of species is assumed to depend on their life history traits, such as growth rate and resource specialization. However, this assumption has not been tested for bacteria. Here we investigate how abundance of soil bacteria relates to slow growth and substrate specialization (oligotrophy) versus fast growth and substrate generalization (copiotrophy). We collected 47 saprotrophic soil bacterial isolates of differing abundances and measured their growth rate and the ability to use a variety of single carbon sources. Opposite to our expectation, there was no relationship between abundance in soil and the measured growth rate or substrate utilization profile (SUP).However, isolates with lower growth rates used fewer substrates than faster growing ones supporting the assumption that growth rate may relate to substrate specialization. Interestingly, growth rate and SUP were correlated with phylogeny, rather than with abundancein soil. Most markedly, Gammaproteobacteria on average grew significantly faster and were able to use more substrates than other bacterial classes, whereas Alphaproteobacteria were growing relatively slowly and used fewer substrates. This finding suggests that growth and substrate utilization are phylogenetically deeply conserved. We conclude that growth rate and substrate utilization of soil bacteria are not general determinants of their abundance. Future studies on explaining bacterial abundance need to determine how other factors, such as competition, predation and abiotic factors may contribute to rarity or abundance in soil bacteria.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-564
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Bacterial abundance
  • Life-history traits
  • Niche breadth
  • Phylogeny


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