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Roots Mediate the Effects of Snowpack Decline on Soil Bacteria, Fungi, and Nitrogen Cycling in a Northern Hardwood Forest.

  • Author(s): Sorensen, Patrick O
  • Bhatnagar, Jennifer M
  • Christenson, Lynn
  • Duran, Jorge
  • Fahey, Timothy
  • Fisk, Melany C
  • Finzi, Adrien C
  • Groffman, Peter M
  • Morse, Jennifer L
  • Templer, Pamela H
  • et al.
Abstract

Rising winter air temperature will reduce snow depth and duration over the next century in northern hardwood forests. Reductions in snow depth may affect soil bacteria and fungi directly, but also affect soil microbes indirectly through effects of snowpack loss on plant roots. We incubated root exclusion and root ingrowth cores across a winter climate-elevation gradient in a northern hardwood forest for 29 months to identify direct (i.e., winter snow-mediated) and indirect (i.e., root-mediated) effects of winter snowpack decline on soil bacterial and fungal communities, as well as on potential nitrification and net N mineralization rates. Both winter snowpack decline and root exclusion increased bacterial richness and phylogenetic diversity. Variation in bacterial community composition was best explained by differences in winter snow depth or soil frost across elevation. Root ingrowth had a positive effect on the relative abundance of several bacterial taxonomic orders (e.g., Acidobacterales and Actinomycetales). Nominally saprotrophic (e.g., Saccharomycetales and Mucorales) or mycorrhizal (e.g., Helotiales, Russalales, Thelephorales) fungal taxonomic orders were also affected by both root ingrowth and snow depth variation. However, when grouped together, the relative abundance of saprotrophic fungi, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, and ectomycorrhizal fungi were not affected by root ingrowth or snow depth, suggesting that traits in addition to trophic mode will mediate fungal community responses to snowpack decline in northern hardwood forests. Potential soil nitrification rates were positively related to ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and archaea abundance (e.g., Nitrospirales, Nitrosomondales, Nitrosphaerales). Rates of N mineralization were positively and negatively correlated with ectomycorrhizal and saprotrophic fungi, respectively, and these relationships were mediated by root exclusion. The results from this study suggest that a declining winter snowpack and its effect on plant roots each have direct effects on the diversity and abundance of soil bacteria and fungal communities that interact to determine rates of soil N cycling in northern hardwood forests.

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