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Abundance and Diversity of Viruses in Six Delaware Soils

  • Kurt E. Williamson
  • Mark Radosevich
  • K. Eric Wommack
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Jun 01, 2005
  • Agricultural Science
  • Ecology


The importance of viruses in marine microbial ecology has been established over the past decade. Specifically, viruses influence bacterial abundance and community composition through lysis and alter bacterial genetic diversity through transduction and lysogenic conversion. By contrast, the abundance and distribution of viruses in soils are almost completely unknown. This study describes the abundance and diversity of autochthonous viruses in six Delaware soils: two agricultural soils, two coastal plain forest soils, and two piedmont forest soils. Viral abundance was measured using epifluorescence microscopy, while viral diversity was assessed from morphological data obtained through transmission electron microscopy. Extracted soil virus communities were dominated by bacteriophages that demonstrated a wide range of capsid diameters (20 nm to 160 nm) and morphologies, including filamentous forms and phages with elongated capsids. The reciprocal Simpson's index suggests that forest soils harbor more diverse assemblages of viruses, particularly in terms of morphological distribution. Repeated extractions of virus-like particles (VLPs) from soils indicated that the initial round of extraction removes approximately 70% of extractable viruses. Higher VLP abundances were observed in forest soils (1.31 × 109 to 4.17 × 109 g−1 dry weight) than in agricultural soils (8.7 × 108 to 1.1 × 109 g−1 dry weight). Soil VLP abundance was significantly correlated to moisture content (r = 0.988) but not to soil texture. Land use (agricultural or forested) was significantly correlated to both bacterial (r = 0.885) and viral (r = 0.812) abundances, as were soil organic matter and water content. Thus, land use is a significant factor influencing viral abundance and diversity in soils.

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