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Vol. 117, No: 1, 2014, Pages:

Microbial enzyme activity at the watershed scale: response to chronic nitrogen deposition and acute phosphorus enrichment

Madeleine M. Mineau, Farrah R. Fatemi, Ivan J. Fernandez, Kevin S. Simon

Earth Systems Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA.

Microbial enzymes play a critical role in organic matter decomposition and enzyme activity can dynamically respond to shifts in inorganic nutrient and substrate availability, reflecting the nutrient and energy limitation of the microbial community. We characterized microbial enzyme response to shifting nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability across terrestrial and aquatic environments at the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine, the site of a whole-watershed N enrichment experiment. We compared activity of β-1,4-glucosidase (BG); β-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminidase (NAG); acid phosphatase (AP) in soil, leaf litter in terrestrial and stream habitats and stream biofilms in a reference and N enriched watershed, representing whole-ecosystem response to chronic N enrichment. In addition, we used shorter, experimental P enrichments to address potential P limitation under ambient and elevated N availability. We found that BG and NAG activity were not affected by the long-term N enrichment in either habitat. Enhanced P limitation due to N enrichment was evident only in the aquatic habitats with 5- and 8-fold higher treated watershed AP activity in stream biofilms and stream litter, respectively. Acute P additions reduced AP activity and increased BG activity and these effects were also most pronounced in the streams. The stoichiometry of enzyme activity was constrained across ecosystem compartments with regression slopes for lnBG:lnNAG, lnBG:lnAP, and lnNAG:lnAP close to 1, ranging 1.142–1.241. We found that microbial enzyme response to shifting N and P availability varied among watershed compartments, typically with stronger effects in aquatic habitats. This suggests that understanding the response of ecosystem function to disturbance at the watershed scale requires simultaneous consideration of all compartments.

Keywoards: Microbial enzyme activity; Nitrogen deposition; β-1,4-Glucosidase; β-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminidase; Acid phosphatase Bear Brook Watershed in Maine.

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