The filamentous growth form is an important strategy for soil microbes to bridge air-filled pores in unsaturated soils. In particular, fungi perform better than bacteria in soils during drought, a property that has been ascribed to the hyphal growth form of fungi. However, it is unknown if, and to what extent, filamentous bacteria may also display similar advantages over non-filamentous bacteria in soils with low hydraulic connectivity. In addition to allowing for microbial interactions and competition across connected micro-sites, water films also facilitate the motility of non-filamentous bacteria. To examine these issues, we constructed and characterized a series of quartz sand microcosms differing in matric potential and pore size distribution and, consequently, in connection of micro-habitats via water films. Our sand microcosms were used to examine the individual and competitive responses of a filamentous bacterium (Streptomyces atratus) and a motile rod-shaped bacterium (Bacillus weihenstephanensis) to differences in pore sizes and matric potential. The Bacillus strain had an initial advantage in all sand microcosms, which could be attributed to its faster growth rate. At later stages of the incubation, Streptomyces became dominant in microcosms with low connectivity (coarse pores and dry conditions). These data, combined with information on bacterial motility (expansion potential) across a range of pore-size and moisture conditions, suggest that, like their much larger fungal counterparts, filamentous bacteria also use this growth form to facilitate growth and expansion under conditions of low hydraulic conductivity. The sand microcosm system developed and used in this study allowed for precise manipulation of hydraulic properties and pore size distribution, thereby providing a useful approach for future examinations of how these properties influence the composition, diversity and function of soil-borne microbial communities.
Wolf, A. B., Vos, M., De Boer, W., & Kowalchuk, G. A. (2013). Impact of matric potential and pore size distribution on growth dynamics of filamentous and non-filamentous soil bacteria. PLoS One, 8(12), [e83661]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0083661