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Growth explains microbial carbon use efficiency across soils differing in land use and geology.

  • Author(s): Zheng, Qing;
  • Hu, Yuntao;
  • Zhang, Shasha;
  • Noll, Lisa;
  • Böckle, Theresa;
  • Richter, Andreas;
  • Wanek, Wolfgang
  • et al.
Abstract

The ratio of carbon (C) that is invested into microbial growth to organic C taken up is known as microbial carbon use efficiency (CUE), which is influenced by environmental factors such as soil temperature and soil moisture. How microbes will physiologically react to short-term environmental changes is not well understood, primarily due to methodological restrictions. Here we report on two independent laboratory experiments to explore short-term temperature and soil moisture effects on soil microbial physiology (i.e. respiration, growth, CUE, and microbial biomass turnover): (i) a temperature experiment with 1-day pre-incubation at 5, 15 and 25 °C at 60% water holding capacity (WHC), and (ii) a soil moisture/oxygen (O2) experiment with 7-day pre-incubation at 20 °C at 30%, 60% WHC (both at 21% O2) and 90% WHC at 1% O2. Experiments were conducted with soils from arable, pasture and forest sites derived from both silicate and limestone bedrocks. We found that microbial CUE responded heterogeneously though overall positively to short-term temperature changes, and decreased significantly under high moisture level (90% WHC)/suboxic conditions due to strong decreases in microbial growth. Microbial biomass turnover time decreased dramatically with increasing temperature, and increased significantly at high moisture level (90% WHC)/suboxic conditions. Our findings reveal that the responses of microbial CUE and microbial biomass turnover to short-term temperature and moisture/O2 changes depended mainly on microbial growth responses and less on respiration responses to the environmental cues, which were consistent across soils differing in land use and geology.

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