Arid Ecosystem Vegetation Canopy-Gap Dichotomy: Influence on Soil Microbial Composition and Nutrient Cycling Functional Potential

Priyanka Kushwaha, Julia W. Neilson, Albert Barberán, Yongjian Chen, Catherine G. Fontana, Bradley J. Butterfield, Raina M. Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Increasing temperatures and drought in desert ecosystems are predicted to cause decreased vegetation density combined with barren ground expansion. It remains unclear how nutrient availability, microbial diversity, and the associated functional capacity vary between the vegetated canopy and gap soils. The specific aim of this study was to characterize canopy versus gap microsite effect on soil microbial diversity, the capacity of gap soils to serve as a canopy soil microbial reservoir, nitrogen (N)-mineralization genetic potential (ureC gene abundance) and urease enzyme activity, and microbial-nutrient pool associations in four arid-hyperarid geolocations of the western Sonoran Desert, Arizona, United States. Microsite combined with geolocation explained 57% and 45.8% of the observed variation in bacterial/archaeal and fungal community composition, respectively. A core microbiome of amplicon sequence variants was shared between the canopy and gap soil communities; however, canopy soils included abundant taxa that were not present in associated gap communities, thereby suggesting that these taxa cannot be sourced from the associated gap soils. Linear mixed-effects models showed that canopy soils have significantly higher microbial richness, nutrient content, and organic N-mineralization genetic and functional capacity. Furthermore, ureC gene abundance was detected in all samples, suggesting that ureC is a relevant indicator of N mineralization in deserts. Additionally, novel phylogenetic associations were observed for ureC, with the majority belonging to Actinobacteria and uncharacterized bacteria. Thus, key N-mineralization functional capacity is associated with a dominant desert phylum. Overall, these results suggest that lower microbial diversity and functional capacity in gap soils may impact ecosystem sustainability as aridity drives openspace expansion in deserts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Volume87
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Keywords

  • aridity
  • deserts
  • enzymatic activity
  • functional traits
  • microsite
  • nutrient mineralization
  • soil microbiome
  • ureC
  • urease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Ecology
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

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