Hydration and diffusion dynamics shape microbial community composition and function in soil aggregates.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Ali Ebrahimi and Dani Or, ETH Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Natural variations in soil hydration conditions (rainfall, evaporation, root water uptake) affect gas and nutrient diffusion and soil microbial community composition and function. The conditions in soil aggregates are of particular interest due to limitations to oxygen diffusion into the core often containing organic carbon (as aggregation agent). The constantly varying soil hydration conditions affect the spatial extent of anoxic conditions in aggregates and thus the sized and self-organization of aerobic and anaerobic microbial communities. We developed an artificial soil aggregate composed of 3-D angular pore network combined with individual based models of motile microbial cells that grow, move, intercept nutrients and are inhibited by presence or absence of oxygen. The hydration conditions in the model aggregate affect community size, spatial segregation, and growth rates. The opposing diffusion directions of oxygen and carbon were essential to maintenance of aerobic and anaerobic communities within an aggregate (anaerobes become extinct when carbon sources are external). Cohabited soil aggregates promoted onset of anaerobic conditions by oxygen consumption by peripheral aerobes. Model predictions of CO2 and N2O production rates were in good agreement with experimental data. Results illustrate how aerobic and anaerobic microbial communities are activated by certain hydration conditions that enhance either nitrogen losses or decomposition of organic matter both contributing to GHG emissions.