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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Whole-soil warming decreases abundance and modifies the community structure of microorganisms in the subsoil but not in surface soil


The microbial community composition in subsoils remains understudied, and it is largely unknown whether subsoil microorganisms show a similar response to global warming as microorganisms at the soil surface do. Since microorganisms are the key drivers of soil organic carbon decomposition, this knowledge gap causes uncertainty in the predictions of future carbon cycling in the subsoil carbon pool (>g50g% of the soil organic carbon stocks are below 30gcm soil depth). In the Blodgett Forest field warming experiment (California, USA) we investigated how +4ggC warming in the whole-soil profile to 100gcm soil depth for 4.5 years has affected the abundance and community structure of microorganisms. We used proxies for bulk microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and functional microbial groups based on lipid biomarkers, such as phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (brGDGTs). With depth, the microbial biomass decreased and the community composition changed. Our results show that the concentration of PLFAs decreased with warming in the subsoil (below 30gcm) by 28g% but was not affected in the topsoil. Phospholipid fatty acid concentrations changed in concert with soil organic carbon. The microbial community response to warming was depth dependent. The relative abundance of Actinobacteria increased in warmed subsoil, and Gram+ bacteria in subsoils adapted their cell membrane structure to warming-induced stress, as indicated by the ratio of anteiso to iso branched PLFAs. Our results show for the first time that subsoil microorganisms can be more affected by warming compared to topsoil microorganisms. These microbial responses could be explained by the observed decrease in subsoil organic carbon concentrations in the warmed plots. A decrease in microbial abundance in warmed subsoils might reduce the magnitude of the respiration response over time. The shift in the subsoil microbial community towards more Actinobacteria might disproportionately enhance the degradation of previously stable subsoil carbon, as this group is able to metabolize complex carbon sources.

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