Metatranscriptomics reveals unsuspected protistan diversity in leaf litter across temperate beech forests, with Amoebozoa the dominating lineage

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2019 Oct 1;95(10):fiz142. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiz142.


Forest litter harbors complex networks of microorganisms whose major components are bacteria, fungi and protists. Protists, being highly selective consumers of bacteria and fungi could influence decomposition processes by shifting competitive microbial interactions. We investigated the eukaryotic diversity from 18 samples of one-year beech (Fagus sylvatica) leaf litter by RNA-based high-throughput sequencing of the small-subunit ribosomal RNA gene. By applying a metatranscriptomics approach, we avoided biases inherent to PCR-based methods, and could therefore focus on elusive protistan groups. We obtained 14 589 eukaryotic assembled sequences (contigs) representing 2223 unique taxa. Fungi dominated the eukaryotic assemblage, followed by an equal proportion of protists and plants. Among protists, the phylum Amoebozoa clearly dominated, representing more than twice the proportion of Alveolata (mostly ciliates) and Rhizaria (mostly Cercozoa), which are often retrieved as the dominant protistan groups in soils, revealing potential primer biases. By assigning functional traits to protists, we could assess that the proportion of free-living and heterotrophs was much higher than that of parasites and autotrophs, opening the way to a better understanding of the role played by the protistan communities and how biodiversity interacts with decomposition processes.

Keywords: biodiversity; decomposition; functional traits; litter; metatranscriptomics; protists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amoebozoa / classification
  • Amoebozoa / genetics
  • Amoebozoa / isolation & purification*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Eukaryota / classification
  • Eukaryota / genetics
  • Eukaryota / isolation & purification
  • Fagus / growth & development
  • Fagus / parasitology*
  • Forests
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Leaves / parasitology
  • Soil / parasitology
  • Transcriptome


  • Soil