Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 48, Issue 8, pp 889–897 | Cite as

Fungal and bacterial growth following the application of slurry and anaerobic digestate of livestock manure to temperate pasture soils

  • John J. Walsh
  • Johannes Rousk
  • Gareth Edwards-Jones
  • Davey L. Jones
  • A. Prysor Williams
Original Paper


How land-application of digestate sourced from anaerobic digestion (AD) of animal waste influences the functioning of a mixed pasture agroecosystem is not well characterised, particularly with regard to the response of the actively growing microbial community. We studied the impact of the liquid AD digestate on the decomposer community in two different soils, seeded with two different common grassland crops; a mixture of either grass or grass/clover in a greenhouse experiment. We studied bacterial (leucine incorporation into bacteria) and fungal (acetate incorporation into ergosterol) growth responses to AD cattle slurry digestate, undigested cattle slurry, mineral fertiliser (NPK and N) added at a rate equivalent to 150 kg N ha−1, and a no-fertiliser control treatment. Differences in fungal and bacterial growth were evident between the soil and sward types. However, the fertilisers consistently stimulated a higher bacterial growth than the no-fertiliser control, and liquid digestate resulted in a level of bacterial growth higher or equal to that of mineral fertiliser, whilst undigested slurry resulted in lower bacterial growth. These fertiliser effects on bacterial growth mirrored the effects on plant growth. In contrast, the fungal community responded only marginally to fertiliser treatments. We conclude that the application of digestate stimulates the bacterial decomposer community in a similar way to that of mineral fertilisers. Our results suggest that mineral fertiliser can be exchanged for liquid digestate with limited impact on the actively growing soil microbial community that, in turn, regulate important soil processes including nutrient cycling in agricultural soils.


Animal waste Biogas Grassland Decomposer ecology Green fertiliser Legume Microbial ecology Plant nutrition Soil fertility 



JR was supported by Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) grants (project numbers 623-2009-7343, 621-2011-5719). JW was funded by the European Union’s Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship programme, and Free-Energy (Wrexham, NE Wales, UK) and Calon Wen (Carmarthenshire, SW Wales, UK).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Walsh
    • 1
  • Johannes Rousk
    • 1
    • 2
  • Gareth Edwards-Jones
    • 1
  • Davey L. Jones
    • 1
  • A. Prysor Williams
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, College of Natural SciencesBangor UniversityGwyneddUK
  2. 2.Section of Microbial Ecology, Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden

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