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Patterns in forest soil microbial community composition across a range of regional climates in Western Canada Brockett, Beth

Abstract

Soil microbial communities can be characterized by community structure and function (community composition) across a spectrum of spatial scales, and variation in soil microbial composition has been associated with a number of environmental gradients. This study investigates the structure and function of soil microbial communities under mature, undisturbed forested sites across a range of regional climates in British Columbia and Alberta, and also examines the variation in community composition within sites. Phospholipid fatty acid analysis was used to investigate the structure of soil microbial communities and total soil microbial biomass at each site. Extra-cellular enzyme assays established the functional potential of the soil microbial community at each site. Multivariate analysis of the data showed that the soil microbial communities under different forest types did significantly separate along the regional climate gradient by both community structure and function, despite high local variation in the communities. Soil moisture content and soil organic matter concentration consistently exhibited the strongest relationship with microbial community characteristics, although the functional and structural responses to the external drivers were different. Microbial community function and structure also changed with soil depth but not with time of sampling. Microbial community function was related to the regional annual average precipitation gradient. Most of the locations exhibited unique microbial community functional profiles in their soil layers; however the enzyme activities in the samples from the driest (Ponderosa Pine) and wettest (Mountain Hemlock) locations were notably different from each other and from those of the other locations, especially in the organic layers. The moist maritime-influenced Coastal Western Hemlock (CWH) forest exhibited microbial community structural characteristics which were unique from those of the other forest locations. The higher abundance of bacteria relative to fungi in the CWH forest soils may be related to the significantly higher available nitrogen concentrations at this site.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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