Analysis of the microbial diversity associated with the Lesotho highlands through culture-independent approaches

Patel, Jasmin Bharatkumar
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Mountains are characterised by elevational gradients which exhibit dramatic changes in climate and biotic turnover across short geographical distances and thus represent suitable natural laboratories for the study of climate change. Studies relating to the impact of climatic factors in montane (i.e. mountain) environments has mainly been focused on the response of vegetation patterns in these environments, while little is known about the impact of these factors on soil microbial diversity and community structure. This study looked at microbial community structure on the warm north-facing slope, cold south-facing slope and summit plateau across a mountain peak near Kotisephola Pass, Drakensberg Mountains, Lesotho. In chapter 1, relevant literature relating to the project covering the various aspects of the montane environment and its climate are reviewed. This includes the soil microbiota associated with mountains and their response to abiotic and biotic factors associated with these environments. Finally, the technological evolution of the study of microbial ecology and how it can be applied to studying montane ecosystems are discussed. Chapter 2 engages with the soil samples collected from field sites, genomic DNA extraction, and amplicon sequencing that was performed of the bacterial (16S rRNA) and fungal (ITS) cohort across the mountain transect. The resultant data were analysed in terms of the soil microbiome structure, α- and β-diversity, and statistical analyses were undertaken to determine the relationship between microbial diversity and factors such as slope aspect and elevation across the mountain peak. In chapter 3, an in-depth analysis of temperature data collected for the mountain peak was undertaken, prior to statistical evaluation of the effects that the distinct microclimates across the mountain summit have on bacterial and fungal diversity. Finally, the implications of the study in terms of how it can contribute towards studying the effects of global climate change are discussed and future perspectives for further studies are provided
A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science to the Faculty of Science, School of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2021