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Science of The Total Environment
Volume 722, 2020, 137849

The mechanism of soil nitrogen transformation under different biocrusts to warming and reduced precipitation: From microbial functional genes to enzyme activity

Rui Hua, Xin-ping Wanga, Jun-shan Xub, Ya-feng Zhanga, Yan-xia Pana, Xue Sub

Shapotou Desert Research and Experiment Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, China.


Soil nitrogen (N) mineralization is a microbially-mediated biogeochemical process that is strongly influenced by changing climates. However, little information is available on the mechanisms behind the response of N mineralization to prolonged warming coupled with drought in soils covered by biocrusts. We used open top chambers to investigate the rate of soil N transformation (ammonification, nitrification and mineralization), enzyme activity and gene abundance in response to warming coupled with reduced precipitation over three years (2016–2018). Warming and drought significantly reduced the N transformation rate, extracellular enzyme activity, and gene abundance in moss-covered soil. For cyanobacteria-covered soil, however, it inhibited enzyme activity and increased the abundance of the nitrification-related genes and therefore nitrification rate. Our treatments had no obvious effects on N transformation and enzyme activity, but reduced gene abundance in bare soil. Biocrusts may facilitate N transformation while the degradation of moss crust caused by climate warming will dampen any regulating effect of biocrusts on the belowground microbial community. Furthermore, belowground microbial communities can mediate N transformation under ongoing warming and reduced precipitation by suppressing ammonification- and nitrification-related gene families, and by stimulating nitrification-related gene families involved in cyanobacteria-covered soil. This study provides a basis for identifying the functional genes involved in key processes in the N cycle in temperate desert ecosystems, and our results further highlight the importance of different biocrusts organisms in the N cycle in temperate deserts as Earth becomes hotter and drier.

Keywords: Warming, N transformation, Biocrusts, Microbial functional genes, Enzyme activity.

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