A rather dry subject; investigating the study of arid-associated microbial communities

Environ Microbiome. 2020 Dec 1;15(1):20. doi: 10.1186/s40793-020-00367-6.


Almost one third of Earth's land surface is arid, with deserts alone covering more than 46 million square kilometres. Nearly 2.1 billion people inhabit deserts or drylands and these regions are also home to a great diversity of plant and animal species including many that are unique to them. Aridity is a multifaceted environmental stress combining a lack of water with limited food availability and typically extremes of temperature, impacting animal species across the planet from polar cold valleys, to Andean deserts and the Sahara. These harsh environments are also home to diverse microbial communities, demonstrating the ability of bacteria, fungi and archaea to settle and live in some of the toughest locations known. We now understand that these microbial ecosystems i.e. microbiotas, the sum total of microbial life across and within an environment, interact across both the environment, and the macroscopic organisms residing in these arid environments. Although multiple studies have explored these microbial communities in different arid environments, few studies have examined the microbiota of animals which are themselves arid-adapted. Here we aim to review the interactions between arid environments and the microbial communities which inhabit them, covering hot and cold deserts, the challenges these environments pose and some issues arising from limitations in the field. We also consider the work carried out on arid-adapted animal microbiotas, to investigate if any shared patterns or trends exist, whether between organisms or between the animals and the wider arid environment microbial communities. We determine if there are any patterns across studies potentially demonstrating a general impact of aridity on animal-associated microbiomes or benefits from aridity-adapted microbiomes for animals. In the context of increasing desertification and climate change it is important to understand the connections between the three pillars of microbiome, host genome and environment.

Publication types

  • Review