Shifts in microbial biomass and the bacteria: fungi ratio occur under field conditions within 3 h after rainfall
Landesman WJ, Dighton J
Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA.
Increases in the frequency of soil drying and extreme precipitation projected by climate models may have important consequences for soil microbial community composition. However, the microbial response may occur over short time scales not captured by traditional sampling methods. Following a 2-year rainfall exclusion experiment in a pine forest ecosystem, we used phospholipid fatty acid profiling to measure the hourly, daily, and weekly-scale response of soil microbial biomass and the bacteria/fungi ratio to a precipitation event. We compared this response to the rewetting of un-manipulated plots. Within 3 h of watering, we detected increases in fungal and bacterial biomass of 125% and 66%, respectively, in un-manipulated plots, but only small increases in biomass within drought plots. We detected a decrease in the bacteria/fungi ratio in un-manipulated plots and an increase in this ratio in the drought plots. This surprising result was likely caused by root mortality (resulting from the previous 2-year rain exclusion) and an increase in ammonium pools in the drought plots, both of which could have suppressed fungal growth. Whereas past research suggests that soil microbes are resistant to drying-rewetting stress and to changes in annual precipitation patterns, here we show that microbes are sensitive to soil drying, but highly resilient, recovering within hours or days of a rain event. We propose that more emphasis be placed on hourly-scale field measurements of soil microbial community structure in future climate change studies.