Experimental warming effects on the microbial community of a temperate mountain forest soil

Soil Biol Biochem. 2011 Jul;43(7):1417-1425. doi: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2011.03.005.


Soil microbial communities mediate the decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM). The amount of carbon (C) that is respired leaves the soil as CO(2) (soil respiration) and causes one of the greatest fluxes in the global carbon cycle. How soil microbial communities will respond to global warming, however, is not well understood. To elucidate the effect of warming on the microbial community we analyzed soil from the soil warming experiment Achenkirch, Austria. Soil of a mature spruce forest was warmed by 4 °C during snow-free seasons since 2004. Repeated soil sampling from control and warmed plots took place from 2008 until 2010. We monitored microbial biomass C and nitrogen (N). Microbial community composition was assessed by phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA) and by quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) of ribosomal RNA genes. Microbial metabolic activity was estimated by soil respiration to biomass ratios and RNA to DNA ratios. Soil warming did not affect microbial biomass, nor did warming affect the abundances of most microbial groups. Warming significantly enhanced microbial metabolic activity in terms of soil respiration per amount of microbial biomass C. Microbial stress biomarkers were elevated in warmed plots. In summary, the 4 °C increase in soil temperature during the snow-free season had no influence on microbial community composition and biomass but strongly increased microbial metabolic activity and hence reduced carbon use efficiency.