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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
(Article in Press): 2013

Changes in microbial dynamics during long-term decomposition in tropical forests

Kristen M. DeAngelis, Dylan Chivian, Julian L. Fortney, Adam P. Arkin, Blake Simmons, Terry C. Hazen, Whendee L. Silver

Microbiology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA.


Humid tropical forest soils are characterized by low and fluctuating redox, conditions which are thought to inhibit organic matter degradation by microbes. However, evidence suggests that soil microbial communities are adapted to the redox conditions in these ecosystems. In this study we tested the hypothesis that soil oxygen (O2) availability as an index of redox conditions structures patterns in litter decomposition and associated microbial community dynamics over space and time in humid tropical forests. We conducted a two year decomposition experiment on a common litter substrate in four sites along an elevational gradient with well described climate and redox dynamics. Microbial community sequencing, potential enzyme activities, and litter chemistry measurements were made on litter and soil to determine the relationship between soil and litter communities and biogeochemistry. Decomposition was slowest in the upper elevation site, which was the wettest and had the lowest average soil O2 availability. However, soil hydrolytic and litter phenol oxidase activities were greatest at this site. Small subunit ribosomal RNA genes were sequenced with universal primers for bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes, yielding 40,850 unique taxa after quality filtering and clustering. Across all sites, microbial succession was observed as increasing litter richness, converging bacterial community profiles, and diverging fungal community profiles. Initial decomposers (1–4 weeks) included many r-selected bacteria, including Alpha-Beta- and GammaproteobacteriaClostridia, Bacteroidetes. We also found evidence of anaerobic fungi such as Cryptococcus, as well as the plant-associated Phialocephala and Phyllachora species, suggesting that anaerobic and plant-associated fungi are prevalent later in decomposition in soils with low and fluctuating redox conditions. Because of the striking similarities between sites in functional potential despite differences in wet tropical soil decomposing communities and litter chemistry, we suggest that future climate-driven disruptions to redox fluctuations could significantly alter the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle in tropical forests.

Keywords: Anaerobic decomposition; Fluctuating redox potential; Small subunit ribosomal rRNA gene community analysis; Hydrolytic and oxidative enzyme activity; Population dynamics; Microbial succession



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