Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Environmental distribution of prokaryotic taxa

Javier Tamames124*, Juan José Abellán12, Miguel Pignatelli12, Antonio Camacho3 and Andrés Moya12

Author Affiliations

1 Unidad Mixta de Investigación en Genómica y Salud, Centro Superior de Investigación en Salud Pública (CSISP) y Universidad de Valencia (Instituto Cavanilles de Biodiversidad y Biología Evolutiva). Avenida de Cataluña 21, 46020 Valencia, Spain

2 CIBER en Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP), Spain

3 Instituto Cavanilles de Biodiversidad y Biología Evolutiva y Departamento de Microbiología y Ecología Universidad de Valencia. C/Dr. Moliner 50, 46100 Burjassot, Valencia, Spain

4 Centro Nacional de Biotecnología (CNB-CSIC). C/Darwin 3, 28049 Madrid, Spain

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-85

Published: 22 March 2010



The increasing availability of gene sequences of prokaryotic species in samples extracted from all kind of locations allows addressing the study of the influence of environmental patterns in prokaryotic biodiversity. We present a comprehensive study to address the potential existence of environmental preferences of prokaryotic taxa and the commonness of the specialist and generalist strategies. We also assessed the most significant environmental factors shaping the environmental distribution of taxa.


We used 16S rDNA sequences from 3,502 sampling experiments in natural and artificial sources. These sequences were taxonomically assigned, and the corresponding samples were also classified into a hierarchical classification of environments. We used several statistical methods to analyze the environmental distribution of taxa. Our results indicate that environmental specificity is not very common at the higher taxonomic levels (phylum to family), but emerges at lower taxonomic levels (genus and species). The most selective environmental characteristics are those of animal tissues and thermal locations. Salinity is another very important factor for constraining prokaryotic diversity. On the other hand, soil and freshwater habitats are the less restrictive environments, harboring the largest number of prokaryotic taxa. All information on taxa, samples and environments is provided at the envDB online database, webcite.


This is, as far as we know, the most comprehensive assessment of the distribution and diversity of prokaryotic taxa and their associations with different environments. Our data indicate that we are still far from characterizing prokaryotic diversity in any environment, except, perhaps, for human tissues such as the oral cavity and the vagina.