, Volume 202, Issue 2, pp 251-262

The response of soil microorganisms and roots to elevated CO2 and temperature in a terrestrial model ecosystem

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Abstract

We investigate the response of soil microorganisms to atmospheric CO2 and temperature change within model terrestrial ecosystems in the Ecotron. The model communities consisted of four plant species (Cardamine hirsuta, Poa annua, Senecio vulgaris, Spergula arvensis), four herbivorous insect species (two aphids, a leaf-miner, and a whitefly) and their parasitoids, snails, earthworms, woodlice, soil-dwelling Collembola (springtails), nematodes and soil microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, mycorrhizae and Protista). In two successive experiments, the effects of elevated temperature (ambient plus 2 °C) at both ambient and elevated CO2 conditions (ambient plus 200 ppm) were investigated. A 40:60 sand:Surrey loam mixture with relatively low nutrient levels was used. Each experiment ran for 9 months and soil microbial biomass (Cmic and Nmic), soil microbial community (fungal and bacterial phospholipid fatty acids), basal respiration, and enzymes involved in the carbon cycling (xylanase, trehalase) were measured at depths of 0–2, 0–10 and 10–20 cm. In addition, root biomass and tissue C:N ratio were determined to provide information on the amount and quality of substrates for microbial growth.

Elevated temperature under both ambient and elevated CO2 did not show consistent treatment effects. Elevation of air temperature at ambient CO2 induced an increase in Cmic of the 0–10 cm layer, while at elevated CO2 total phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) increased after the third generation. The metabolic quotient qCO2 decreased at elevated temperature in the ambient CO2 run. Xylanase and trehalase showed no changes in both runs. Root biomass and C:N ratio were not influenced by elevated temperature in ambient CO2. In elevated CO2, however, elevated temperature reduced root biomass in the 0–10 cm and 30–40 cm layers and increased N content of roots in the deeper layers. The different response of root biomass and C:N ratio to elevated temperature may be caused by differences in the dynamics of root decomposition and/or in allocation patterns to coarse or fine roots (i.e. storage vs. resource capture functions). Overall, our data suggests that in soils of low nutrient availability, the effects of climate change on the soil microbial community and processes are likely to be minimal and largely unpredicatable.