Carbon availability structures microbial community composition and function in soil aggregate fractions

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 8:45 AM
Kirsten S. Hofmockel1, Elizabeth Bach1, Ryan Williams1 and Adina Howe2, (1)Iowa State University, Ames, IA, United States, (2)Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, IL, United States
Identifying the microbial metabolic pathways that most strongly influence ecosystem carbon (C) cycling requires a deeper understanding of the availability and accessibility of microbial substrates. A first step towards this goal is characterizing the relationships between microbial community function and soil C chemistry in a field context. For this perspective, soil aggregate fractions can be used as model systems that scale between microbe-substrate interactions and ecosystem C cycling and storage. The present study addresses how physicochemical variation among soil aggregate fractions influences the composition and functional potential of C cycling microbial communities. We report variation across soil aggregates using plot scale biological replicates from biofuel agroecosystems (fertilized, reconstructed, tallgrass prairie). Our results suggest that C and nitrogen (N) chemistry significantly differ among aggregate fractions. This leads to variation in microbial community composition, which was better characterized among aggregates than by using the whole soil. In fact by considering soil aggregation, we were able to characterize almost 2000 more taxa than whole soil alone, resulting in 65% greater community richness. Availability of C and N strongly influenced the composition of microbial communities among soil aggregate fractions. The normalized abundance of microbial functional guilds among aggregate fractions correlated with C and N chemistry, as did functional potential, measured by extracellular enzyme activity. Metagenomic results suggest that soil aggregate fractions select for functionally distinct microbial communities, which may significantly influence decomposition and soil C storage. Our study provides support for the premise that integration of soil aggregate chemistry, especially microaggregates that have greater microbial richness and occur at spatial scales relevant to microbial community functioning, may be necessary to understand the role of microbial communities on terrestrial C and N cycling.