Soil microbial community response to drying and rewetting stress: does historical precipitation regime matter?
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- Evans, S.E. & Wallenstein, M.D. Biogeochemistry (2012) 109: 101. doi:10.1007/s10533-011-9638-3
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Climate models project that precipitation patterns will likely intensify in the future, resulting in increased duration of droughts and increased frequency of large soil rewetting events, which are stressful to the microorganisms that drive soil biogeochemical cycling. Historical conditions can affect contemporary microbial responses to environmental factors through the persistence of abiotic changes or through the selection of a more tolerant microbial community. We examined how a history of intensified rainfall would alter microbial functional response to drying and rewetting events, whether this historical legacy was mediated through altered microbial community composition, and how long community and functional legacies persisted under similar conditions. We collected soils from a long-term field manipulation (Rainfall Manipulation Plot Study) in Kansas, USA, where rainfall variability was experimentally amplified. We measured respiration, microbial biomass, fungal:bacterial ratios and bacterial community composition after collecting soils from the field experiment, and after subjecting them to a series of drying–rewetting pulses in the lab. Although rainfall history affected respiration and microbial biomass, the differences between field treatments did not persist throughout our 115-day drying–rewetting incubation. However, soils accustomed to more extreme rainfall did change less in response to lab moisture pulses. In contrast, bacterial community composition did not differ between rainfall manipulation treatments, but became more dissimilar in response to drying–rewetting pulses depending on their previous field conditions. Our results suggest that environmental history can affect contemporary rates of biogeochemical processes both through changes in abiotic drivers and through changes in microbial community structure. However, the extremity of the disturbance and the mechanism through which historical legacies occur may influence how long they persist, which determines the importance of these effects for biogeochemical cycling.