, Volume 161, Issue 1, pp 113–123 | Cite as

Links between plant community composition, soil organic matter quality and microbial communities in contrasting tundra habitats

  • Anu EskelinenEmail author
  • Sari Stark
  • Minna Männistö
Ecosystem Ecology - Original Paper


Plant communities, soil organic matter and microbial communities are predicted to be interlinked and to exhibit concordant patterns along major environmental gradients. We investigated the relationships between plant functional type composition, soil organic matter quality and decomposer community composition, and how these are related to major environmental variation in non-acid and acid soils derived from calcareous versus siliceous bedrocks, respectively. We analysed vegetation, organic matter and microbial community compositions from five non-acidic and five acidic heath sites in alpine tundra in northern Europe. Sequential organic matter fractionation was used to characterize organic matter quality and phospholipid fatty acid analysis to detect major variation in decomposer communities. Non-acidic and acidic heaths differed substantially in vegetation composition, and these disparities were associated with congruent shifts in soil organic matter and microbial communities. A high proportion of forbs in the vegetation was positively associated with low C:N and high soluble N:phenolics ratios in soil organic matter, and a high proportion of bacteria in the microbial community. On the contrary, dwarf shrub-rich vegetation was associated with high C:N and low soluble N:phenolics ratios, and a high proportion of fungi in the microbial community. Our study demonstrates a strong link between the plant community composition, soil organic matter quality, and microbial community composition, and that differences in one compartment are paralleled by changes in others. Variation in the forb-shrub gradient of vegetation may largely dictate variations in the chemical quality of organic matter and decomposer communities in tundra ecosystems. Soil pH, through its direct and indirect effects on plant and microbial communities, seems to function as an ultimate environmental driver that gives rise to and amplifies the interactions between above- and belowground systems.


Habitat fertility Plant functional group Plant–soil interactions Soil pH Soil nutrient cycling 



We are grateful to Risto Virtanen and Jari Oksanen for discussions and comments on the earlier versions of the manuscript. Jari Oksanen is also appreciated for statistical advice. We thank Riitta Nielsen and Tuulikki Pakonen for helping with the soil analyses and organic matter fractionation. Kilpisjärvi Biological Station is thanked for providing laboratory facilities, assistance and lodging during the fieldwork. This study was financially supported by grants from the Societas pro Fauna et Flora Fennica, the Oskar Öflund Foundation and the Oulu University Scholarship Foundation (to A. Eskelinen). All experiments complied with the laws of Finland at the time the experiments were performed.

Supplementary material

442_2009_1362_MOESM1_ESM.doc (31 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 31 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of OuluOuluFinland
  2. 2.Finnish Forest Research InstituteRovaniemiFinland

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