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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Microbial decomposers not constrained by climate history along a Mediterranean climate gradient in southern California

  • Author(s): Baker, NR
  • Khalili, B
  • Martiny, JBH
  • Allison, SD
  • et al.

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Microbial decomposers mediate the return of CO2 to the atmosphere by producing extracellular enzymes to degrade complex plant polymers, making plant carbon available for metabolism. Determining if and how these decomposer communities are constrained in their ability to degrade plant litter is necessary for predicting how carbon cycling will be affected by future climate change. We analyzed mass loss, litter chemistry, microbial biomass, extracellular enzyme activities, and enzyme temperature sensitivities in grassland litter transplanted along a Mediterranean climate gradient in southern California. Microbial community composition was manipulated by caging litter within bags made of nylon membrane that prevent microbial immigration. To test whether grassland microbes were constrained by climate history, half of the bags were inoculated with local microbial communities native to each gradient site. We determined that temperature and precipitation likely interact to limit microbial decomposition in the extreme sites along our gradient. Despite their unique climate history, grassland microbial communities were not restricted in their ability to decompose litter under different climate conditions across the gradient, although microbial communities across our gradient may be restricted in their ability to degrade different types of litter. We did find some evidence that local microbial communities were optimized based on climate, but local microbial taxa that proliferated after inoculation into litterbags did not enhance litter decomposition. Our results suggest that microbial community composition does not constrain C-cycling rates under climate change in our system, but optimization to particular resource environments may act as more general constraints on microbial communities.

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