Determinants of Soil Microbial Communities: Effects of Agricultural Management, Season, and Soil Type on Phospholipid Fatty Acid Profiles
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Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiles were measured in soils from organic, low-input, and conventional farming systems that are part of the long term Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems (SAFS) Project. The farming systems differ in whether their source of fertilizer is mineral or organic, and in whether a winter cover crop is grown. Sustained increases in microbial biomass resulting from high organic matter inputs have been observed in the organic and low-input systems. PLFA profiles were compared to ascertain whether previously observed changes in biomass were accompanied by a change in the composition of the microbial community. In addition, the relative importance of environmental variables on PLFA profiles was determined. Redundancy analysis ordination showed that PLFA profiles from organic and conventional systems were significantly different from April to July. On ordination plots, PLFA profiles from the low-input system fell between organic and conventional systems on most sample dates. A group of fatty acids (i14:0, a15:0, 16:1ω7c, 16:1ω5c, 14:0, and 18:2ω6c) was enriched in the organic plots throughout the sampling period, and another group (10Me16:0, 2OH 16:1 and 10Me17:0) was consistently lower in relative abundance in the organic system. In addition, another group (15:0, a17:0, i16:0, 17:0, and 10Me18:0) was enriched over the short term in the organic plots after compost incorporation. The relative importance of various environmental variables in governing the composition of microbial communities could be ranked in the order: soil type > time > specific farming operation (e.g., cover crop incorporation or sidedressing with mineral fertilizer) > management system > spatial variation in the field. Measures of the microbial community and soil properties (including microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen, substrate induced respiration, basal respiration, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, soil nitrate and ammonium, and soil moisture) were seldom associated with the variation in the PLFA profiles.
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