Temperature and Microbial Activity Effects on Soil Carbon Stabilization
Monday, 15 December 2014
Uncertainties on the importance of environmental controls on soil C stabilization and turnover limit accurate predictions of the rate and magnitude of the response of soils to climate change. Here we report results from a study of interactions among vegetation and soil microbial communities in North American forests across a highly constrained, 22OC gradient mean annual temperature (MAT) as a proxy for understanding changes with climate. Previous work indicated that turnover and amount of labile SOC responded negatively to MAT, whereas stable SOC was insensitive to temperature variation. Hardwood forests stored a larger amount of stable SOC, but with shorter mean residence times than paired pine forests. Our findings suggest that the interaction between vegetation composition and microbial communities may affect SOC accumulation and stabilization responses to rising temperature. To investigate these relationships, we characterized the microbial communities with Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) analysis. PLFA analyses indicate complex microbial responses to increased MAT and vegetation composition. Microbial biomass declined with MAT in conifer forests and increased in hardwood forests. Relative abundance of actinomycetes increased with MAT for both forest types, and was correlated with amount and turnover of active SOC. The relative abundance of fungi decreased with increasing MAT, while gram+ bacteria increased, such that fungi:bacteria ratio decreased with MAT, with this trend being more pronounced for hardwood cover type. These results are consistent with a long-term warming experiment in a hardwood forest at the Harvard Forest LTER site, where after 12 years of warming the relative abundance of gram positive bacteria and actinomycetes increased, while fungal biomass decreased. In contrast, relationships between microbial groups and the stable fraction of SOC along the gradient were only observed in conifers. Increases in mean residence time of stable SOC were correlated with higher relative abundance of actinomycetes and gram+ bacteria, and a decrease in fungi:bacteria ratio. PLFA analyses show that the composition of the microbial community may explain the greater temperature effect on labile C decomposition, but not the lack of a MAT effect on the turnover of stable SOC.