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Changes in soil microbial community response to precipitation events in a semi-arid steppe of the Xilin River Basin, China

Abstract

In the context of climate change, precipitation is predicted to become more intense at the global scale. Such change may alter soil microbial communities and the microbially mediated carbon and nitrogen dynamics. In this study, we experimentally repackaged precipitation patterns during the growing season (from June to September) of 2012 in a semi-arid temperate steppe of the Xilin River Basin in Inner Mongolia of China, based on the 60-year growing season precipitation data. Specifically, a total amount of 240 mm simulated precipitation was assigned to experimental plots by taking the following treatments: (1) P6 (6 extreme precipitation events, near the 1st percentile); (2) P10 (10 extreme precipitation events, near the 5th percentile); (3) P16 (16 moderate precipitation events, near the 50th percentile); and (4) P24 (24 events, 60-year average precipitation, near the 50th percentile). At the end of the growing season, we analyzed soil microbial community structure and biomass, bacterial abundance, fungal abundance and bacterial composition, by using phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA), real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and 16S rRNA gene clone library methods. The extreme precipitation events did not change soil microbial community structure (represented by the ratio of PLFA concentration in fungi to PLFA concentration in bacteria, and the ratio of PLFA concentration in gram-positive bacterial biomass to PLFA concentration in gram-negative bacterial biomass). However, the extreme precipitation events significantly increased soil microbial activity (represented by soil microbial biomass nitrogen and soil bacterial 16S rRNA gene copy numbers). Soil fungal community showed no significant response to precipitation events. According to the redundancy analysis, both soil microbial biomass nitrogen and soil ammonium nitrogen (NH4-N) were found to be significant in shaping soil microbial community. Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria and Proteobacteria were the dominant phyla in soil bacterial composition, and responded differently to the extreme precipitation events. Based on the results, we concluded that the extreme precipitation events altered the overall soil microbial activity, but did not impact how the processes would occur, since soil microbial community structure remained unchanged.

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Acknowledgements

This study was financially supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA19030202) and the International Cooperation and Exchange of National Natural Science Foundation of China (31761123001, 31761143018). We greatly appreciated the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station, Chinese Academy of Sciences for the field help. We thank Dr. PANG Zhe, Dr. ZHANG Biao, Dr. DING Kai, Dr. TANG Li and Dr. MA Shuang for their help in field experiments, and are grateful to Dr. CHE Rongxiao and Dr. SHAO Yanlin for data analysis.

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Correspondence to Xiaoqing Qian.

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Zhang, H., Liu, W., Kang, X. et al. Changes in soil microbial community response to precipitation events in a semi-arid steppe of the Xilin River Basin, China. J. Arid Land 11, 97–110 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-018-0071-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-018-0071-5

Keywords

  • extreme precipitation event
  • phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA)
  • soil microbial community
  • RT-qPCR
  • soil bacteria
  • soil fungi