The biogeographic pattern of microbial functional genes along an altitudinal gradient of the Tibetan pasture

Qi Qi, Mengxin Zhao, Shiping Wang, Xingyu Ma, Yuxuan Wang, Ying Gao, Qiaoyan Lin, Xiangzhen Li, Baohua Gu, Guoxue Li, Jizhong Zhou, Yunfeng Yang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


As the highest place of the world, the Tibetan plateau is a fragile ecosystem. Given the importance of microbial communities in driving soil nutrient cycling, it is of interest to document the microbial biogeographic pattern here. We adopted a microarray-based tool named GeoChip 4.0 to investigate grassland microbial functional genes along an elevation gradient from 3200 to 3800 m above sea level open to free grazing by local herdsmen and wild animals. Interestingly, microbial functional diversities increase with elevation, so does the relative abundances of genes associated with carbon degradation, nitrogen cycling, methane production, cold shock and oxygen limitation. The range of Shannon diversities (10.27-10.58) showed considerably smaller variation than what was previously observed at ungrazed sites nearby (9.95-10.65), suggesting the important role of livestock grazing on microbial diversities. Closer examination showed that the dissimilarity of microbial community at our study sites increased with elevations, revealing an elevation-decay relationship of microbial functional genes. Both microbial functional diversity and the number of unique genes increased with elevations. Furthermore, we detected a tight linkage of greenhouse gas (CO2) and relative abundances of carbon cycling genes. Our biogeographic study provides insights on microbial functional diversity and soil biogeochemical cycling in Tibetan pastures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number976
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpine grassland
  • Altitudinal gradient
  • Microbial biogeography
  • Microbial functional potential
  • Soil microbial community

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