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Microbial extracellular enzyme activity with simulated climate change


It is critical to understand the consequences of environmental change for the microbial regulation of carbon and nutrient cycling. Specifically, understanding microbial community traits, such as extracellular enzyme activity, can help inform nutrient cycling models and address knowledge gaps. We analyzed data on extracellular enzyme activities and litter decomposition from an 18-month experiment in which microbial communities were reciprocally transplanted along a climate gradient in Southern California. Communities were from desert, scrubland, grassland, pine–oak, and subalpine ecosystems. We aimed to test how enzyme activities responded to climate change following transplantation and how those responses related to decomposition rates. We hypothesized that microbial communities would specialize on their native climate conditions, resulting in higher enzyme activities when transplanted back into their native climate. We investigated the relationship between extracellular enzyme Vmax values, substrate mass loss, and microbial biomass as well as variation in these variables across the climate gradient. We found little evidence for climate specialization, and there was rarely a reduction in enzyme functioning after microbial communities were transplanted into new climate conditions. Moreover, observed differences in decomposition were not related to changes in extracellular enzyme potential, although there were significant differences in enzyme activities and decomposition rates across sites. These results suggest that direct, physiological impacts of climate are likely to be important for enzyme-mediated decomposition, but climate specialization will not constrain the microbial response to climate change in our system.

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