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Microbial legacies alter decomposition in response to simulated global change


Terrestrial ecosystem models assume that microbial communities respond instantaneously, or are immediately resilient, to environmental change. Here we tested this assumption by quantifying the resilience of a leaf litter community to changes in precipitation or nitrogen availability. By manipulating composition within a global change experiment, we decoupled the legacies of abiotic parameters versus that of the microbial community itself. After one rainy season, more variation in fungal composition could be explained by the original microbial inoculum than the litterbag environment (18% versus 5.5% of total variation). This compositional legacy persisted for 3 years, when 6% of the variability in fungal composition was still explained by the microbial origin. In contrast, bacterial composition was generally more resilient than fungal composition. Microbial functioning (measured as decomposition rate) was not immediately resilient to the global change manipulations; decomposition depended on both the contemporary environment and rainfall the year prior. Finally, using metagenomic sequencing, we showed that changes in precipitation, but not nitrogen availability, altered the potential for bacterial carbohydrate degradation, suggesting why the functional consequences of the two experiments may have differed. Predictions of how terrestrial ecosystem processes respond to environmental change may thus be improved by considering the legacies of microbial communities.

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