• Global Warming:

    the threat of a permafrost Carbon – climate feedback

  • We develop and improve

    stable isotopes techniques for ecological applications

  • Plants, fungi and bacteria interact

    at the root-soil interface

  • Probing the future:

    Climate Change experiments

  • Soil is fundamental to human life

  • Tropical rainforests

    hold the key to global net primary productivity

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Latest publications

Substrate quality and concentration control decomposition and microbial strategies in a model soil system

Soil carbon models typically scale decomposition linearly with soil carbon (C) concentration, but this linear relationship has not been experimentally verified. Here we investigated the underlying biogeochemical mechanisms controlling the relationships between soil C concentration and decomposition rates. We incubated a soil/sand mixture with increasing amounts of finely ground plant residue in the laboratory at constant temperature and moisture for 63 days. The plant residues were rye (Secale cereale, C/N ratio of 23) and wheat straw (Triticum spp., C/N ratio of 109) at seven soil C concentrations ranging from 0.38 to 2.99%. We measured soil respiration, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations, microbial biomass, and potential enzyme activities over the course of the incubation. Rye, which had higher N and DOC contents, lost 6 to 8 times more C as CO2 compared to wheat residue. Under rye and wheat amendment, absolute C losses as CO2 (calculated per g dry soil) increased linearly with C concentration while relative C losses as CO2 (expressed as percent of initial C) increased with C concentration following a quadratic function. In low C concentration treatments (0.38–0.79% OC), DOC decreased gradually from day 3 to day 63, microbial C increased towards the end in the rye treatment or decreased only slightly with straw amendment, and microbes invested in general enzymes such as proteases and oxidative enzymes. At increasing C levels, enzyme activity shifted to degrading cellulose after 15 days and degrading microbial necromass (e.g. chitin) after 63 days. At the highest C concentrations (2.99% OC), microbial biomass peaked early in the incubation and remained high in the rye treatment and decreased only slightly in the wheat treatment. While wheat lost C as CO2 constantly at all C concentrations, respiration dynamics in the rye treatment strongly depended on C concentration. Our results indicate that litter quality and C concentration regulate enzyme activities, DOC concentrations, and microbial respiration. The potential for non-linear relationships between soil C concentration and decomposition may need to be considered in soil C models and soil C sequestration management approaches.

Schnecker J, Bowles T, Hobbie EA, Smith RG, Grandy AS
2019 - Biogeochemistry, 144: 47-59

Environmental effects on soil microbial nitrogen use efficiency are controlled by allocation of organic nitrogen to microbial growth and regulate gross N mineralization

Microbial nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is the efficiency by which microbes allocate organic N acquired to biomass formation relative to the N in excess of microbial demand released through N mineralization. Microbial NUE thus is critical to estimate the capacity of soil microbes to retain N in soils and thereby affects inorganic N availability to plants and ecosystem N losses. However, how soil temperature and soil moisture/O2 affect microbial NUE to date is not clear. Therefore, two independent incubation experiments were conducted with soils from three land uses (cropland, grassland and forest) on two bedrocks (silicate and limestone). Soils were exposed to 5, 15 and 25 °C overnight at 60% water holding capacity (WHC) or acclimated to 30 and 60% WHC at 21% O2 and to 90% WHC at 1% O2 over one week at 20 °C. Microbial NUE was measured as microbial growth over microbial organic N uptake (the sum of growth N demand and gross N mineralization). Microbial NUE responded positively to temperature increases with Q10 values ranging from 1.30 ± 0.11 to 2.48 ± 0.67. This was due to exponentially increasing microbial growth rates with incubation temperature while gross N mineralization rates were relatively insensitive to temperature increases (Q10 values 0.66 ± 0.30 to 1.63 ± 0.15). Under oxic conditions (21% O2), microbial NUE as well as gross N mineralization were not stimulated by the increase in soil moisture from 30 to 60% WHC. Under suboxic conditions (90% WHC and 1% O2), microbial NUE markedly declined as microbial growth rates were strongly negatively affected due to increasing microbial energy limitation. In contrast, gross N mineralization rates increased strongly as organic N uptake became in excess of microbial growth N demand. Therefore, in the moisture/O2 experiment microbial NUE was mainly regulated by the shift in O2 status (to suboxic conditions) and less affected by increasing water availability per se. These temperature and moisture/O2 effects on microbial organic N metabolism were consistent across the soils differing in bedrock and land use. Overall it has been demonstrated that microbial NUE was controlled by microbial growth, and that NUE controlled gross N mineralization as an overflow metabolism when energy (C) became limiting or N in excess in soils. This study thereby greatly contributes to the understanding of short-term environmental responses of microbial community N metabolism and the regulation of microbial organic-inorganic N transformations in soils.

zhang S, Zheng Q, Noll L, Hu Y, Wanek W
2019 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 135: 304-315

Microbial carbon and nitrogen cycling responses to drought and temperature in differently managed mountain grasslands

Grassland management can modify soil microbial carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling, affecting the resistance to extreme weather events, which are predicted to increase in frequency and magnitude in the near future. However, effects of grassland management on microbial C and N cycling and their responses to extreme weather events, such as droughts and heatwaves, have rarely been tested in a combined approach. We therefore investigated whether grassland management affects microbial C and N cycling responses to drought and temperature manipulation. We collected soils from in situdrought experiments conducted in an extensively managed and an abandoned mountain grassland and incubated them at two temperature levels. We measured microbial respiration and substrate incorporation, as well as gross rates of organic and inorganic N cycling to estimate microbial C and N use efficiencies (CUE and NUE). The managed grassland was characterized by lower microbial biomass, lower fungi to bacteria ratio, and higher microbial CUE, but only slightly different microbial NUE. At both sites drought induced a shift in microbial community composition driven by an increase in Gram-positive bacterial abundance. Drought significantly reduced C substrate respiration and incorporation by microbes at both sites, while microbial CUE remained constant. In contrast, drought increased gross rates of N mineralization at both sites, whereas gross amino acid uptake rates only marginally changed. We observed a significant direct, as well as interactive effect between land management and drought on microbial NUE. Increased temperatures significantly stimulated microbial respiration and reduced microbial CUE independent of drought or land management. Although microbial N processing rates showed no clear response, microbial NUE significantly decreased at higher temperatures. In summary in our study, microbial CUE, in particular respiration, is more responsive to temperature changes. Although N processing rates were stronger responding to drought than to temperature microbial NUE was affected by both drought and temperature increase. We conclude that direct effects of drought and heatwaves can induce different responses in soil microbial C and N cycling similarly in the studied land management systems.

Fuchslueger L, Wild B, Mooshammer M, Takriti M, Kienzl S, Knoltsch A, Hofhansl F, Bahn M, Richter A
2019 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 135: 144-153

Lecture series

Microbial ecology of nitrogen cycling in paddy soils

Yong-Guan Zhu
Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences & Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences
09:00 h
Lecture Hall HS 5, UZA2 (Geocentre), Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna