Decoupling of microbial carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling in response to extreme temperature events

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Science Advances  03 May 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 5, e1602781
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602781


Predicted changes in the intensity and frequency of climate extremes urge a better mechanistic understanding of the stress response of microbially mediated carbon (C) and nutrient cycling processes. We analyzed the resistance and resilience of microbial C, nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) cycling processes and microbial community composition in decomposing plant litter to transient, but severe, temperature disturbances, namely, freeze-thaw and heat. Disturbances led temporarily to a more rapid cycling of C and N but caused a down-regulation of P cycling. In contrast to the fast recovery of the initially stimulated C and N processes, we found a slow recovery of P mineralization rates, which was not accompanied by significant changes in community composition. The functional and structural responses to the two distinct temperature disturbances were markedly similar, suggesting that direct negative physical effects and costs associated with the stress response were comparable. Moreover, the stress response of extracellular enzyme activities, but not that of intracellular microbial processes (for example, respiration or N mineralization), was dependent on the nutrient content of the resource through its effect on microbial physiology and community composition. Our laboratory study provides novel insights into the mechanisms of microbial functional stress responses that can serve as a basis for field studies and, in particular, illustrates the need for a closer integration of microbial C-N-P interactions into climate extremes research.

  • carbon cycling
  • Climate change
  • environmental change
  • microbial activity
  • microbial stability
  • nitrogen cycling
  • phosphorus cycling
  • resilience
  • resistance

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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