Soil temperature and water content drive microbial carbon fixation in grassland of permafrost area on the Tibetan plateau

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Weidong Kong, Guangxia Guo and Jinbo Liu, ITP Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Soil microbial communities underpin terrestrial biogeochemical cycles and are greatly influenced by global warming and global-warming-induced dryness. However, the response of soil microbial community function to global change remains largely uncertain, particularly in the ecologically vulnerable Tibetan plateau permafrost area with large carbon storage. With the concept of space for time substitution, we investigated the responses of soil CO2-fixing microbial community and its enzyme activity to climate change along an elevation gradient (4400-5100 m) of alpine grassland on the central Tibetan plateau. The elevation gradient in a south-facing hill slope leads to variation in climate and soil physicochemical parameters. The autotrophic microbial communities were characterized by quantitative PCR (qPCR), terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis (T-RFLP) and cloning/sequencing targeting the CO2-fixing gene (RubisCO). The results demonstrated that the autotrophic microbial community abundance, structure and its enzyme activity were mainly driven by soil temperature and water content. Soil temperature increase and water decrease dramatically reduced the abundance of the outnumbered form IC RubisCO-containing microbes, and significantly changed the structure of form IC, IAB and ID RubisCO-containing microbial community. Structural equation model revealed that the RubisCO enzyme was directly derived from RubisCO-containing microbes and its activity was significantly reduced by soil temperature increase and water content decrease. Thus our results provide a novel positive feedback loop of climate warming and warming-induced dryness by that soil microbial carbon fixing potential will reduce by 3.77%-8.86% with the soil temperature increase of 1.94oC and water content decrease of 60%-70%. This positive feedback could be capable of amplifying the climate change given the significant contribution of soil microbial CO2-fixing up to 4.9% of total soil organic carbon.