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Dynamics of Soil Microbial N‑Cycling Strategies in Response to Cadmium Stress


Globally increasing trace metal contamination of soils requires a better mechanistic understanding of metal-stress impacts on microbially mediated nutrient cycling. Herein, a 5-month laboratory experiment was employed to assess the effects of cadmium (Cd) on soil microbial N-cycling processes and associated functional gene abundance, with and without urea amendment. In non-N-amended soils, Cd progressively stimulated microbial populations for N acquisition from initial dissolved organic N (DON) to later recalcitrant organic N. The acceleration of N catabolism was synchronously coupled with C catabolism resulting in increased CO2/N2O fluxes and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) contents. The abundance of microbes deemed inefficient in N catabolism was gradually repressed after an initial stimulation period. We posit that enhanced exergonic N processes diminished the need for endergonic activities as a survival strategy for N communities experiencing metal stress. With urea amendment, Cd exhibited an initial stimulation effect on soil nitrification and a later a promotion effect on mineralization, along with an increase in the associated microbial populations. In N-amended soils, Cd accelerated N/C transformation processes, but decreased N2O and CO2 fluxes by 19 and 14%, respectively. This implies that under eutrophic conditions, Cd synchronously altered microbial C/N metabolism from a dominance of catabolic to anabolic processes. These results infer a nutrient-based adjustment of microbial N-cycling strategies to enhance their metal resistance.

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