Structure and Function of Prokaryotes in Soil

Authored by: Michael Schloter

Handbook of Soil Sciences Properties and Processes

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  November  2011

Print ISBN: 9781439803059
eBook ISBN: 9781439803066
Adobe ISBN:


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Prokaryotes can be regarded, based on pure numbers, as the most important group of organisms in soils. It has been estimated that 1 g of soil harbors up to 10 billion microorganisms, belonging to up to 100,000 different species (Amann et al., 1995). Craig Venter compared the amount of genetic information stored in 1 g of soil to that of 4000 human genomes. But not only the numbers and the diversity of microbes are impressive, the amount of stored carbon and nitrogen in the microbial biomass exceeds the mass, which is stored in the plant biomass (Whitman et al., 1998). Prokaryotes are generally regarded as the catalysts for the major turnover processes in soil. Some metabolic steps, such as the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen and the biosynthesis of methane, are exclusively performed by bacteria and archaea. Furthermore prokaryotes are capable of efficiently degrading many pollutants. Finally, microbial communities highly influence plant growth positively as so-called plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria or negatively as phyto-pathogens. Most prokaryotes can adapt to extreme conditions, such as high salinity, drought or water stress, which is necessary to survive the changing conditions in soils. Therefore, the structure and activity of prokaryotic communities serves as important parameters for soil quality and one of the major goals of agricultural management is the steering of soil microbial communities ever since, to improve sustainable crop yield and quality.

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