Improved description of terrestrial habitat types by including microbial communities as indicators

Anne-Cathrine Storgaard Danielsen*, Per Halkjær Nielsen, Cecilie Hermansen, Peter Lystbæk Weber, Lis Wollesen de Jonge, Vibeke Rudkjøbing Jørgensen, Mogens Humlekrog Greve, Derek Corcoran, Morten Kam Dahl Dueholm, Dan Bruhn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Soils host diverse communities of microorganisms essential for ecosystem functions and soil health. Despite their importance, microorganisms are not covered by legislation protecting biodiversity or habitats, such as the Habitats Directive. Advances in molecular methods have caused breakthroughs in microbial community analysis, and recent studies have shown that parts of the communities are habitat-specific. If distinct microbial communities are present in the habitat types defined in the Habitats Directive, the Directive may be improved by including these communities. Thus, monitoring and reporting of biodiversity and conservation status of habitat types could be based not only on plant communities but also on microbial communities. In the present study, bacterial and plant communities were examined in six habitat types defined in the Habitats Directive by conducting botanical surveys and collecting soil samples for amplicon sequencing across 19 sites in Denmark. Furthermore, selected physico-chemical properties expected to differ between habitat types and explain variations in community composition of bacteria and vegetation were analysed (pH, electrical conductivity (EC), soil texture, soil water repellency, soil organic carbon content (OC), inorganic nitrogen, and in-situ water content (SWC)). Despite some variations within the same habitat type and overlaps between habitat types, habitat-specific communities were observed for both bacterial and plant communities, but no correlation was observed between the alpha diversity of vegetation and bacteria. PERMANOVA analysis was used to evaluate the variables best able to explain variation in the community composition of vegetation and bacteria. Habitat type alone could explain 46% and 47% of the variation in bacterial and plant communities, respectively. Excluding habitat type as a variable, the best model (pH, SWC, OC, fine silt, and Shannon's diversity index for vegetation) could explain 37% of the variation for bacteria. For vegetation, the best model (pH, EC, ammonium content and Shannon's diversity index for bacteria) could explain 25% of the variation. Based on these results, bacterial communities could be included in the Habitats Directive to improve the monitoring, as microorganisms are more sensitive to changes in the environment compared to vegetation, which the current monitoring is based on.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118677
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • Environmental monitoring
  • Grassland
  • Heathland
  • Macroflora
  • Ordination analysis
  • Soil properties
  • Soil/chemistry
  • Bacteria/genetics
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Water/analysis
  • Plants
  • Biodiversity
  • Microbiota
  • Ecosystem
  • Carbon/analysis


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