Soil bacterial and fungal community responses to nitrogen addition across soil depth and microhabitat in an arid shrubland.

Frontiers in Microbiology 6:891 (2015) PMID 26388845 PMCID PMC4559666

Arid shrublands are stressful environments, typified by alkaline soils low in organic matter, with biologically-limiting extremes in water availability, temperature, and UV radiation. The widely-spaced plants and interspace biological soil crusts in these regions provide soil nutrients in a localized fashion, creating a mosaic pattern of plant- or crust-associated microhabitats with distinct nutrient composition. With sporadic and limited rainfall, nutrients are primarily retained in the shallow surface soil, patterning biological activity. We examined soil bacterial and fungal community responses to simulated nitrogen (N) deposition in an arid Larrea tridentata-Ambrosia dumosa field experiment in southern Nevada, USA, using high-throughput sequencing of ribosomal RNA genes. To examine potential interactions among the N application, microhabitat and soil depth, we sampled soils associated with shrub canopies and interspace biological crusts at two soil depths (0-0.5 or 0-10 cm) across the N-amendment gradient (0, 7, and 15 kg ha(-1) yr(-1)). We hypothesized that localized compositional differences in soil microbiota would constrain the impacts of N addition to a microhabitat distribution that would reflect highly localized geochemical conditions and microbial community composition. The richness and community composition of both bacterial and fungal communities differed significantly by microhabitat and with soil depth in each microhabitat. Only bacterial communities exhibited significant responses to the N addition. Community composition correlated with microhabitat and depth differences in soil geochemical features. Given the distinct roles of soil bacteria and fungi in major nutrient cycles, the resilience of fungi and sensitivity of bacteria to N amendments suggests that increased N input predicted for many arid ecosystems could shift nutrient cycling toward pathways driven primarily by fungal communities.

DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00891