Plant and Soil

, Volume 366, Issue 1–2, pp 671–682 | Cite as

Response of soil microbial activity to grazing, nitrogen deposition, and exotic cover in a serpentine grassland

  • Ellen H. EschEmail author
  • Daniel L. Hernández
  • Jae R. Pasari
  • Rose S. G. Kantor
  • Paul C. Selmants
Regular Article


Background and aims

Exotic species, nitrogen (N) deposition, and grazing are major drivers of change in grasslands. However little is known about the interactive effects of these factors on below-ground microbial communities.


We simulated realistic N deposition increases with low-level fertilization and manipulated grazing with fencing in a split-plot experiment in California’s largest serpentine grassland. We also monitored grazing intensity using camera traps and measured total available N to assess grazing and nutrient enrichment effects on microbial extracellular enzyme activity (EEA), microbial N mineralization, and respiration rates in soil.


Continuous measures of grazing intensity and N availability showed that increased grazing and N were correlated with increased microbial activity and were stronger predictors than the categorical grazing and fertilization measures. Exotic cover was also generally correlated with increased microbial activity resulting from exotic-driven nutrient cycling alterations. Seasonal effects, on abiotic factors and plant phenology, were also an important factor in EEA with lower activity occurring at peak plant biomass.


In combination with previous studies from this serpentine grassland, our results suggest that grazing intensity and soil N availability may affect the soil microbial community indirectly via effects on exotic cover and associated changes in nutrient cycling while grazing directly impacts soil community function.


California Cattle Extracellular enzyme activity Fertilization Festuca perennis Invasive species 





Extracellular enzyme assay


L-leucine aminopeptidase









This research was supported by funding from the Kearney Foundation for Soil Science. We thank Christal Niederer for her assistance with fieldwork and Bonnie Keeler for her useful comments on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen H. Esch
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel L. Hernández
    • 1
  • Jae R. Pasari
    • 2
  • Rose S. G. Kantor
    • 3
  • Paul C. Selmants
    • 4
  1. 1.Biology DepartmentCarleton CollegeNorthfieldUSA
  2. 2.Bodega Marine LaboratoryUniversity of California, DavisBodega BayUSA
  3. 3.Plant and Microbial BiologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  4. 4.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental ManagementUniversity of Hawaii at ManoaHonoluluUSA

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