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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Alternations of Structure and Functional Activity of Below Ground Microbial Communities at Elevated Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide


The global atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased by more than 30percent since the industrial revolution. Although the stimulating effects of elevated CO2 (eCO2) on plant growth and primary productivity have been well studied, its influences on belowground microbial communities are poorly understood and controversial. In this study, we showed a significant change in the structure and functional potential of soil microbial communities at eCO2 in a grassland ecosystem, the BioCON (Biodiversity, CO2 and Nitrogen) experimental site ( using a comprehensive functional gene array, GeoChip 3.0, which contains about 28,0000 probes and covers approximately 57,000 gene variants from 292 functional gene families involved in carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur cycles as well as other functional processes. GeoChip data indicated that the functional structure of microbial communities was markedly different between ambient CO2 (aCO2) and eCO2 by detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) of all 5001 detected functional gene probes although no significant differences were detected in the overall microbial diversity. A further analysis of 1503 detected functional genes involved in C, N, P, and S cycles showed that a considerable portion (39percent) of them were only detected under either aCO2 (14percent) or eCO2 (25percent), indicating that the functional characteristics of the microbial community were significantly altered by eCO2. Also, for those shared genes (61percent) detected, some significantly (p<0.05) changed their abundance at eCO2. Especially, genes involved in labile C degradation, such as amyA, egl, and ara for starch, cellulose, and hemicelluloses, respectively, C fixation (e.g., rbcL, pcc/acc), N fixation (nifH), and phosphorus utilization (ppx) were significantly increased under eCO2, while those involved in decomposing recalcitrant C, such as glx, lip, and mnp for lignin degradation remained unchanged. This study provides insights into our understanding of belowground microbial communities and their feedbacks to terrestrial ecosystems at eCO2.

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