Original Paper

Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 59-65

First online:

The use of phospholipid fatty acid analysis to estimate bacterial and fungal biomass in soil

  • A. FrostegårdAffiliated withDepartment of Microbial Ecology, University of Lund
  • , E. BååthAffiliated withDepartment of Microbial Ecology, University of Lund

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The cell content of 12 bacterial phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) was determined in bacteria extracted from soil by homogenization/centrifugation. The bacteria were enumerated using acridine orange direct counts. An average of 1.40×10-17 mol bacterial PLFA cell-1 was found in bacteria extracted from 15 soils covering a wide range of pH and organic matter contents. With this factor, the bacterial biomass based on PLFA analyses of whole soil samples was calculated as 1.0–4.8 mg bacterial C g-1 soil C. The corresponding range based on microscopical counts was 0.3–3.0 mg bacterial C g-1 soil C. The recovery of bacteria from the soils using homogenization/centrifugation was 2.6–16% (mean 8.7%) measured by PLFA analysis, and 12–61% (mean 26%) measured as microscopical counts. The soil content of the PLFA 18:2ω6 was correlated with the ergosterol content (r=0.92), which supports the use of this PLFA as an indicator of fungal biomass. The ratio 18:2ω6 to bacterial PLFA is therefore suggested as an index of the fungal:bacterial biomass ratio in soil. An advantage with the method based on PLFA analyses is that the same technique and even the same sample is used to determine both fungi and bacteria. The fungal:bacterial biomass ratio calculated in this way was positively correlated with the organic matter content of the soils (r=0.94).

Key words

Phospholipid fatty acids Bacterial biomass Fungal biomass Ergosterol Microscopical counts