Seasonal Variation in Soil Microbial Biomass, Bacterial Community Composition and Extracellular Enzyme Activity in Relation to Soil Respiration in a Northern Great Plains Grassland

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Emily Wilton and Lawrence B Flanagan, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, Canada
Soil respiration rate is affected by seasonal changes in temperature and moisture, but is this a direct effect on soil metabolism or an indirect effect caused by changes in microbial biomass, bacterial community composition and substrate availability? In order to address this question, we compared continuous measurements of soil and plant CO2 exchange made with an automatic chamber system to analyses conducted on replicate soil samples collected on four dates during June-August. Microbial biomass was estimated from substrate-induced respiration rate, bacterial community composition was determined by 16S rRNA amplicon pyrosequencing, and β-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminidase (NAGase) and phenol oxidase enzyme activities were assayed fluorometrically or by absorbance measurements, respectively. Soil microbial biomass declined from June to August in strong correlation with a progressive decline in soil moisture during this time period. Soil bacterial species richness and alpha diversity showed no significant seasonal change. However, bacterial community composition showed a progressive shift over time as measured by Bray-Curtis dissimilarity. In particular, the change in community composition was associated with increasing relative abundance in the alpha and delta classes, and declining abundance of the beta and gamma classes of the Proteobacteria phylum during June-August. NAGase showed a progressive seasonal decline in potential activity that was correlated with microbial biomass and seasonal changes in soil moisture. In contrast, phenol oxidase showed highest potential activity in mid-July near the time of peak soil respiration and ecosystem photosynthesis, which may represent a time of high input of carbon exudates into the soil from plant roots. This input of exudates may stimulate the activity of phenol oxidase, a lignolytic enzyme involved in the breakdown of soil organic matter. These analyses indicated that seasonal change in soil respiration is a complex interaction between temporal changes in soil environmental factors and biological changes in the plant and microbial community that affect soil respiratory metabolism.