, Volume 203, Issue 2, pp 289-300

Impact of elevated CO2 on the metabolic diversity of microbial communities in N-limited grass swards

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The impact of elevated atmospheric CO2 on qualitative and qua ntitative changes in rhizosphere carbon flow will have important consequences fo r nutrient cycling and storage in soil, through the effect on the activity, biom ass size and composition of soil microbial communities. We hypothesized that mic robial communities from the rhizosphere of Danthonia richardsonii, a n ative C3 Australian grass, growing at ambient and twice ambient CO2 a nd varying rates of low N application (20, 60, 180 kg N ha-1) will be different as a consequence of qualitative and quantitative change in rhizosphere carbon flow. We used the BiologTM system to construct sole carbon source utilisation profiles of these communities from the rhizosphere of D. richardsonii. BiologTM GN and MT plates, the latter to which more ecologically relevant root exudate carbon sources were added, were used to characterise the communities. Microbial communities from the rhizosphere of D. richardsonii grown for four years at twice ambient CO2 had significantly greater utilisation of all carbon sources except those with a low C:N ratio (neutral and acidic amino acids, amides, N-heterocycles, long chain aliphatic acids) than communities from plants grown at ambient CO2. This indicates a change in microbial community composition suggesting that under elevated CO2 compounds with a higher C:N ratio were exuded. Enumeration of microorganisms, using plate counts, indicated that there was a preferential stimulation of fungal growth at elevated CO2 and confirmed that bacterial metabolic activity (C utilisation rates), not population size (counts), were stimulated by additional C flow at elevated CO2. Nitrogen was an additional rate-limiting factor for microbial growth in soil and had a significant impact on the microbial response to elevated CO2. Microbial populations were higher in the rhizosphere of plants receiving the highest N application, but the communities receiving the lowest N application were most active. These results have important implications for carbon turnover and storage in soils where changes in soil microbial community structure and stimulation of the activity of microorganisms which prefer to grow on rhizodeposits may lead to a decrease in the composition of organic matter and result in an accumulation of soil carbon.