Plant and Soil

, Volume 411, Issue 1–2, pp 333–346 | Cite as

Direct and indirect effects of shifting rainfall on soil microbial respiration and enzyme activity in a semi-arid system

  • Ellen H. EschEmail author
  • David Lipson
  • Elsa E. Cleland
Regular Article


Background and aims

Higher interannual precipitation variability is predicted for Southern California’s shrub-dominated systems, promoting soil moisture variation and changing community composition. We asked if soil microbial responses to rainfall regime will depend on litter inputs; showing direct effects of altered precipitation through soil moisture and indirect effects resulting from shifting litter inputs.


Soils were collected from a 2-year field rainfall manipulation experiment. Under lab conditions soils were subjected to high or low moisture pulses with litter amendments from native and exotic species in all combinations.


Soil respiration was higher with larger water pulses, but rose over time in low pulse treatments (direct response). Litter additions from exotic species promoted greater respiration, and results were stronger under higher soil moisture (indirect response). Extracellular enzyme activities generally were higher with exotic litter and under high moisture pulses. Those involved in N-cycling had much larger increases activity for the exotic litter addition - high moisture pulse scenarios compared to other treatments.


Our results indicate the potential for microbial acclimation to drought conditions over short timescales and that below-ground processes are sensitive to direct and indirect effects of shifting rainfall regimes, especially where invasion is promoted by future climate change.


Chaparral Exotic species Extracellular enzyme activity Microbial acclimation Microbial biomass Microbial respiration 









Extracellular enzyme activity


L-leucine aminopeptidase


Microbial biomass





We thank Rachel Abbott, Angie Ashbacher, and Christopher Kopp for maintaining the field experiment along with Rochelle Aran and Magali Porrachia for their laboratory assistance. This work was performed at the University of California Natural Reserve System and supported by a Mildred E. Mathias Graduate Student Research Grant from the University of California Natural Reserve System. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. (DGE-1144086) and also a National Science Foundation Division of Environmental Biology grant (DEB 1154082). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen H. Esch
    • 1
    Email author
  • David Lipson
    • 2
  • Elsa E. Cleland
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Biological Sciences, Ecology, Behavior & Evolution SectionUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologySan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA

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