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Increases in soil respiration following labile carbon additions linked to rapid shifts in soil microbial community composition

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Abstract

Organic matter decomposition and soil CO2 efflux are both mediated by soil microorganisms, but the potential effects of temporal variations in microbial community composition are not considered in most analytical models of these two important processes. However, inconsistent relationships between rates of heterotrophic soil respiration and abiotic factors, including temperature and moisture, suggest that microbial community composition may be an important regulator of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition and CO2 efflux. We performed a short-term (12-h) laboratory incubation experiment using tropical rain forest soil amended with either water (as a control) or dissolved organic matter (DOM) leached from native plant litter, and analyzed the effects of the treatments on soil respiration and microbial community composition. The latter was determined by constructing clone libraries of small-subunit ribosomal RNA genes (SSU rRNA) extracted from the soil at the end of the incubation experiment. In contrast to the subtle effects of adding water alone, additions of DOM caused a rapid and large increase in soil CO2 flux. DOM-stimulated CO2 fluxes also coincided with profound shifts in the abundance of certain members of the soil microbial community. Our results suggest that natural DOM inputs may drive high rates of soil respiration by stimulating an opportunistic subset of the soil bacterial community, particularly members of the Gammaproteobacteria and Firmicutes groups. Our experiment indicates that variations in microbial community composition may influence SOM decomposition and soil respiration rates, and emphasizes the need for in situ studies of how natural variations in microbial community composition regulate soil biogeochemical processes.

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Acknowledgments

We thank H. and M. Michaud of the Drake Bay Wilderness Camp for providing field access and logistical support in Costa Rica, and Francisco Campos and the Organización para Estudios Tropicales (OET) and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia (MINAE) in Costa Rica for assisting with research permits and logistics. We are grateful to R. Ley for valuable discussions and insight during the experimental design and data analysis, and Sarah Flood Page for assistance with sequence editing and analysis. We also thank K. Kalbitz and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant DEB−0089447 (to A.R.T. and S.K.S.) and by NSF Grant DEB−0515744 (to A.R.T. and C.C.C.)

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Correspondence to Cory C. Cleveland.

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Cleveland, C.C., Nemergut, D.R., Schmidt, S.K. et al. Increases in soil respiration following labile carbon additions linked to rapid shifts in soil microbial community composition. Biogeochemistry 82, 229–240 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-006-9065-z

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