Litter quality drives the differentiation of microbial communities in the litter horizon across an alpine treeline ecotone in the eastern Tibetan Plateau.
ABSTRACT: Cellulose and lignin are the main polymeric components of the forest litter horizon. We monitored microbial community composition using phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis and investigated the ligninolytic and cellulolytic enzyme activities of the litter horizon across an alpine treeline ecotone in the eastern Tibetan Plateau. The activities of ligninolytic and cellulolytic enzymes and the biomass of microbial PLFAs were higher in the initial stage of litter decomposition than in the latter stage in the three vegetation types (coniferous forest, alpine shrubland and alpine meadow). Soil microbial community structure varied significantly over the course of litter decomposition in the three vegetation types. Furthermore, the BIOENV procedure revealed that the carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio, carbon to phosphorus (C:P) ratio and moisture content (MC) were the most important determinants of microbial community structure in the initial stage of litter decomposition, whereas pH and the lignin concentration were the major factors influencing the microbial community structure in the later stage of litter decomposition. These findings indicate that litter quality drives the differentiation of microbial communities in the litter horizon across an alpine treeline ecotone in the eastern Tibetan Plateau.
Project description:Decomposition of plant litter is a key control over carbon (C) storage in the soil. The biochemistry of the litter being produced, the environment in which the decomposition is taking place, and the community composition and metabolism of the decomposer organisms exert a combined influence over decomposition rates. As deciduous shrubs and trees are expanding into tundra ecosystems as a result of regional climate warming, this change in vegetation represents a change in litter input to tundra soils and a change in the environment in which litter decomposes. To test the importance of litter biochemistry and environment in determining litter mass loss, we reciprocally transplanted litter between heath (Empetrum nigrum), shrub (Betula nana), and forest (Betula pubescens) at a sub-Arctic treeline in Sweden. As expansion of shrubs and trees promotes deeper snow, we also used a snow fence experiment in a tundra heath environment to understand the importance of snow depth, relative to other factors, in the decomposition of litter. Our results show that B. pubescens and B. nana leaf litter decomposed at faster rates than E. nigrum litter across all environments, while all litter species decomposed at faster rates in the forest and shrub environments than in the tundra heath. The effect of increased snow on decomposition was minimal, leading us to conclude that microbial activity over summer in the productive forest and shrub vegetation is driving increased mass loss compared to the heath. Using B. pubescens and E. nigrum litter, we demonstrate that degradation of carbohydrate-C is a significant driver of mass loss in the forest. This pathway was less prominent in the heath, which is consistent with observations that tundra soils typically have high concentrations of "labile" C. This experiment suggests that further expansion of shrubs and trees may stimulate the loss of undecomposed carbohydrate C in the tundra.
Project description:Litter decomposition is an important process for cycling of nutrients in terrestrial ecosystems. The objective of this study was to evaluate direct and indirect effects of climate on litter decomposition along an altitudinal gradient in a temperate Alpine region. Foliar litter of European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Black pine (Pinus nigra) was incubated in litterbags during two years in the Hochschwab massif of the Northern Limestone Alps of Austria. Eight incubation sites were selected following an altitudinal/climatic transect from 1900 to 900 m asl. The average remaining mass after two years of decomposition amounted to 54% (beech) and 50% (pine). Net release of N, P, Na, Al, Fe and Mn was higher in pine than in beech litter due to high immobilization (retention) rates of beech litter. However, pine litter retained more Ca than beech litter. Altitude retarded decay (mass loss and associated C release) in beech litter during the first year only but had a longer lasting effect on decaying pine litter. Altitude comprises a suite of highly auto-correlated characteristics (climate, vegetation, litter, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, snow cover) that influence litter decomposition. Hence, decay and nutrient release of incubated litter is difficult to predict by altitude, except during the early stage of decomposition, which seemed to be controlled by climate. Reciprocal litter transplant along the elevation gradient yielded even relatively higher decay of pine litter on beech forest sites after a two-year adaptation period of the microbial community.
Project description:Upward shifts of alpine treelines and shrub expansion are occurring under climate change, and Abies faxoniana (AF) and Rhododendron lapponicum (RL) may become distributed at higher altitudes. How do abiotic factors and litter quality modulate the effects of soil fauna on carbon release in this context? A field decomposition experiment involving the foliar litter of AF and RL was conducted along an elevation gradient encompassing coniferous forest, alpine shrubland and alpine meadow by using litterbags with different mesh sizes (3 and 0.04 mm). The objective was to determine the influences of soil fauna, litter quality and abiotic factors on species-specific carbon release and their contributions during litter decomposition. Our findings demonstrated that higher soil fauna abundance and diversity facilitated litter carbon release. The contribution rates of soil fauna to carbon release (Cfau) decreased with elevation increasing and decomposition time. Cfau are influenced by soil faunal diversity, dominant fauna groups (Collembola, Oribatida, Mesostigmata), and abiotic factors (temperature). Soil fauna significantly and directly regulated carbon release, abiotic factors indirectly regulated carbon release via altering soil fauna community composition and litter quality. This study improve our understanding in the mechanisms of decomposer contributions to carbon cycling in the context of global climate change.
Project description:Litter decomposition during winter can provide essential nutrients for plant growth in the subsequent growing season, which plays important role in preventing the expansion of dry areas and maintaining the stability of ecotone ecosystems. However, limited information is currently available on the contributions of soil fauna to litter decomposition during winter in such ecosystems. Therefore, a field experiment that included litterbags with two different mesh sizes (0.04 mm and 3 mm) was conducted to investigate the contribution of soil fauna to the loss of foliar litter mass in winter from November 2013 to April 2014 along the upper reaches of the Minjiang River. Two litter types of the dominant species were selected in each ecosystem: cypress (Cupressus chengiana) and oak (Quercus baronii) in ecotone; cypress (Cupressus chengiana) and clovershrub (Campylotropis macrocarpa) in dry valley; and fir (Abies faxoniana) and birch (Betula albosinensis) in montane forest. Over one winter incubation, foliar litter lost 6.0%-16.1%, 11.4%-26.0%, and 6.4%-8.5% of initial mass in the ecotone, dry valley and montane forest, respectively. Soil fauna showed obvious contributions to the loss of foliar litter mass in all of the ecosystems. The highest contribution (48.5%-56.8%) was observed in the ecotone, and the lowest contribution (0.4%-25.8%) was observed in the montane forest. Compared with other winter periods, thawing period exhibited higher soil fauna contributions to litter mass loss in ecotone and dry valley, but both thawing period and freezing period displayed higher soil fauna contributions in montane forest. Statistical analysis demonstrated that the contribution of soil fauna was significantly correlated with temperature and soil moisture during the winter-long incubation. These results suggest that temperature might be the primary control factor in foliar litter decomposition, but more active soil fauna in the ecotone could contribute more in litter decomposition and its related ecological processes in this region.
Project description:Background:Litter decomposition is a key process in the functioning of forest ecosystems, because it strongly controls nutrient recycling and soil fertility maintenance. The interaction between the litter chemical composition and the metabolism of the soil microbial community has been described as the main factor of the decomposition process based on three hypotheses: substrate-matrix interaction (SMI), functional breadth (FB) and home-field advantage (HFA). The objective of the present study was to evaluate the effect of leaf litter quality (as a direct plant effect, SMI hypothesis), the metabolic capacity of the microbial community (as a legacy effect, FB hypothesis), and the coupling between the litter quality and microbial activity (HFA hypothesis) on the litter decomposition of two contiguous deciduous oak species at a local scale. Methods:To accomplish this objective, we performed a litterbag experiment in the field for 270 days to evaluate mass loss, leaf litter quality and microbial activity in a complete factorial design for litter quality and species site. Results:The litter of Quercus deserticola had higher rate of decomposition independently of the site, while the site of Quercus castanea promoted a higher rate of decomposition independently of the litter quality, explained by the specialization of the soil microbial community in the use of recalcitrant organic compounds. The Home-Field Advantage Index was reduced with the decomposition date (22% and 4% for 30 and 270 days, respectively). Discussion:We observed that the importance of the coupling of litter quality and microbial activity depends on decomposition stage. At the early decomposition stage, the home-advantage hypothesis explained the mass loss of litter; however, in the advanced decomposition stage, the litter quality and the metabolic capacity of the microbial community can be the key drivers.
Project description:Plant-microbial interactions in the litter layer represent one of the most relevant interactions for biogeochemical cycling as litter decomposition is a key first step in carbon and nitrogen turnover. However, our understanding of these interactions in the litter layer remains elusive. In an old-growth mixed Nothofagus forest in Patagonia, we studied the effects of single tree species identity and the mixture of three tree species on the fungal and bacterial composition in the litter layer. We also evaluated the effects of nitrogen (N) addition on these plant-microbial interactions. In addition, we compared the magnitude of stimulation of litter decomposition due to home field advantage (HFA, decomposition occurs more rapidly when litter is placed beneath the plant species from which it had been derived than beneath a different plant species) and N addition that we previously demonstrated in this same forest, and used microbial information to interpret these results. Tree species identity had a strong and significant effect on the composition of fungal communities but not on the bacterial community of the litter layer. The microbial composition of the litter layer under the tree species mixture show an averaged contribution of each single tree species. N addition did not erase the plant species footprint on the fungal community, and neither altered the bacterial community. N addition stimulated litter decomposition as much as HFA for certain tree species, but the mechanisms behind N and HFA stimulation may have differed. Our results suggest that stimulation of decomposition from N addition might have occurred due to increased microbial activity without large changes in microbial community composition, while HFA may have resulted principally from plant species' effects on the litter fungal community. Together, our results suggest that plant-microbial interactions can be an unconsidered driver of litter decomposition in temperate forests.
Project description:Plant litter decomposition is a process enabling biogeochemical cycles closing in ecosystems, and decomposition in forests constitutes the largest part of this process taking place in terrestrial biomes. Microbial communities during litter decomposition were studied mainly with low-throughput techniques not allowing detailed insight, particularly into coniferous litter, as it is more difficult to obtain high quality DNA required for analyses. Motivated by these problems, we analyzed archaeal, bacterial, and eukaryotic communities at three decomposition stages: fresh, 3- and 8-month-old litter by 16/18S rDNA pyrosequencing, aiming at detailed insight into early stages of pine litter decomposition. Archaea were absent from our libraries. Bacterial and eukaryotic diversity was greatest in 8-month-old litter and the same applied to bacterial and fungal rDNA content. Community structure was different at various stages of decomposition, and phyllospheric organisms (bacteria: Acetobacteraceae and Pseudomonadaceae members, fungi: Lophodermium, Phoma) were replaced by communities with metabolic capabilities adapted to the particular stage of decomposition. Sphingomonadaceae and Xanthomonadaceae and fungal genera Sistotrema, Ceuthospora, and Athelia were characteristic for 3-month-old samples, while 8-month-old ones were characterized by Bradyrhizobiaceae and nematodes (Plectus). We suggest that bacterial and eukaryotic decomposer communities change at different stages of pine litter decomposition in a way similar to that in broadleaf litter. Interactions between bacteria and eukaryotes appear to be one of the key drivers of microbial community structure.
Project description:Microbes drive leaf litter decomposition, and their communities are adapted to the local vegetation providing that litter. However, whether these local microbial communities confer a significant home-field advantage in litter decomposition remains unclear, with contrasting results being published. Here, we focus on a litter transplantation experiment from oak forests (home site) to two away sites without oak in South Tyrol (Italy). We aimed to produce an in-depth analysis of the fungal and bacterial decomposer communities using Illumina sequencing and qPCR, to understand whether local adaptation occurs and whether this was associated with litter mass loss dynamics. Temporal shifts in the decomposer community occurred, reflecting changes in litter chemistry over time. Fungal community composition was site dependent, while bacterial composition did not differ across sites. Total litter mass loss and rates of litter decomposition did not change across sites. Litter quality influenced the microbial community through the availability of different carbon sources. Additively, our results do not support the hypothesis that locally adapted microbial decomposers lead to a greater or faster mass loss. It is likely that high functional redundancy within decomposer communities regulated the decomposition, and thus greater future research attention should be given to trophic guilds rather than taxonomic composition.
Project description:Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) are generally considered important active biogeochemical pools of total carbon and nitrogen. Many studies have documented the contributions of soil fauna to litter decomposition, but the effects of the soil fauna on labile substances (i.e., DOC and TDN) in litter during early decomposition are not completely clear. Therefore, a field litterbag experiment was carried out from 13th November 2013 to 23rd October 2014 in an alpine forest and an alpine meadow located on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Litterbags with different mesh sizes were used to provide access to or prohibit the access of the soil fauna, and the concentrations of DOC and TDN in the foliar litter were measured during the winter (the onset of freezing, deep freezing and thawing stage) and the growing season (early and late). After one year of field incubation, the concentration of DOC in the litter significantly decreased, whereas the TDN concentration in the litter increased. Similar dynamic patterns were detected under the effects of the soil fauna on both DOC and TDN in the litter between the alpine forest and the alpine meadow. The soil fauna showed greater positive effects on decreasing DOC concentration in the litter in the winter than in the growing season. In contrast, the dynamics of TND in the litter were related to seasonal changes in environmental factors, rather than the soil fauna. In addition, the soil fauna promoted a decrease in litter DOC/TDN ratio in both the alpine forest and the alpine meadow throughout the first year of decomposition, except for in the late growing season. These results suggest that the soil fauna can promote decreases in DOC and TDN concentrations in litter, contributing to early litter decomposition in these cold biomes.
Project description:Glucans like cellulose and starch are a major source of carbon for decomposer food webs, especially during early- and intermediate-stages of decomposition. Litter quality has previously been suggested to notably influence decomposition processes as it determines the decomposability of organic material and the nutrient availability to the decomposer community. To study the impact of chemical and elemental composition of resources on glucan decomposition, a laboratory experiment was carried out using beech (Fagus sylvatica, L.) litter from four different locations in Austria, differing in composition (concentration of starch, cellulose and acid unhydrolyzable residue or AUR fraction) and elemental stoichiometry (C:N:P ratio). Leaf litter was incubated in mesocosms for six months in the laboratory under controlled conditions. To investigate the process of glucan decomposition and its controls, we developed an isotope pool dilution (IPD) assay using (13)C-glucose to label the pool of free glucose in the litter, and subsequently measured the dilution of label over time. This enabled us to calculate gross rates of glucose production through glucan depolymerization, and glucose consumption by the microbial community. In addition, potential activities of extracellular cellulases and ligninases (peroxidases and phenoloxidases) were measured to identify effects of resource chemistry and stoichiometry on microbial enzyme production. Gross rates of glucan depolymerization and glucose consumption were highly correlated, indicating that both processes are co-regulated and intrinsically linked by the microbial demand for C and energy and thereby to resource allocation to enzymes that depolymerize glucans. At early stages of decomposition, glucan depolymerization rates were correlated with starch content, indicating that starch was the primary source for glucose. With progressing litter decomposition, the correlation with starch diminished and glucan depolymerization rates were highly correlated to cellulase activities, suggesting that cellulose was the primary substrate for glucan depolymerization at this stage of decomposition. Litter stoichiometry did not affect glucan depolymerization or glucose consumption rates early in decomposition. At later stages, however, we found significant negative relationships between glucan depolymerization and litter C:N and AUR:N ratio and a positive relationship between glucan depolymerization and litter N concentration. Litter C:N and C:P ratios were negatively related to cellulase, peroxidase and phenoloxidase activities three and six months after incubation, further corroborating the importance of resource stoichiometry for glucan depolymerization after the initial pulse of starch degradation.