Identity of plant, lichen and moss species connects with microbial abundance and soil functioning in Maritime Antarctica

Plant Soil. 2018 Aug;429(1-2):35-52. doi: 10.1007/s11104-018-3721-7. Epub 2018 Jun 21.


Background and aims: We lack studies evaluating how the identity of plant, lichen and moss species relates to microbial abundance and soil functioning on Antarctica. If species identity is associated with soil functioning, distributional changes of key species, linked to climate change, could significantly affect Antarctic soil functioning.

Methods: We evaluated how the identity of six Antarctic plant, lichen and moss species relates to a range of soil attributes (C, N and P cycling), microbial abundance and structure in Livingston Island, Maritime Antarctica. We used an effect size metric to predict the association between species (vs. bare soil) and the measured soil attributes.

Results: We observed species-specific effects of the plant and biocrust species on soil attributes and microbial abundance. Phenols, phosphatase and β-D-cellobiosidase activities were the most important attributes characterizing the observed patterns. We found that the evaluated species positively correlated with soil nutrient availability and microbial abundance vs. bare soil.

Conclusions: We provide evidence, from a comparative study, that plant and biocrust identity is associated with different levels of soil functioning and microbial abundance in Maritime Antarctica. Our results suggest that changes in the spatial distribution of these species linked to climate change could potentially entail changes in the functioning of Antarctic terrestrial ecosystems.

Keywords: Antarctic vegetation; bacteria; fungi; qPCR; soil enzyme activities.