, Volume 117, Issue 1, pp 67-79,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 27 Jul 2013

Physiological shifts in the microbial community drive changes in enzyme activity in a perennial agroecosystem


Perennial agroecosystems have the potential to promote plant–microbial linkages by increasing the quantity of root carbon entering the soil. However, an understanding of how perennial cropping systems affect microbial communities remains incomplete. The objective of this study was to determine the potential for a fertilized perennial bioenergy cropping system to impact microbial growth and enzyme activity. Three times throughout the growing season we examined the activity of four enzymes involved in decomposition (ß-glucosidase, ß-xylosidase, cellobiohydrolase, and N-acetyl glucosaminidase) in replicated plots of an annual (corn) and perennial-based (switchgrass) cropping system. We also took simultaneous measurements of microbial biomass and potential rates of microbial respiration and net N mineralization. Microbial biomass was unaffected by cropping system. Mid-summer, however, we observed increases in enzyme activity and potential microbial respiration in the perennial system that were independent of microbial biomass, likely in response to labile carbon inputs. Further, we observed lower net N mineralization, higher microbial biomass nitrogen and higher activity of nitrogen liberating enzymes, which are indicative of a community with high nitrogen demands. Overall, our research demonstrates that perennial agroecosystems can affect the physiological capacity of the microbial community, yielding communities with greater nitrogen retention and greater rates of decomposition as a result of allocation of resources towards enzyme production and nitrogen mining. These results can inform biogeochemical models with respect to the importance of temporally dynamic changes in carbon and nitrogen availability and microbial carbon use efficiency as drivers of enzyme production.

Responsible Editor: Colin Bell