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How do microbial communities adapt to soil acidification?

Temperate grasslands in northern China have experienced soil acidification in the last 30 years due to increased acid deposition and unsustainable management. Long-term soil acidification may lead to leaching of base cations, nutrient imbalances, and metal stress for soil biomes.

Recently, a research team from the Institute of Applied Ecology (IAE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) revealed how microbial communities adapt to the threats of soil acidification by experimentally adding elemental sulfur (S) to simulate soil acidification in a meadow steppe of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China. The study was published in Ecological Processes.

The researchers found that soil acidification increased the relative abundance of fungi community and subsequently led to a conversion from microbial nitrogen (N) limitation to carbon (C) limitation with decreasing soil pH.

To cope with this situation, soil microbial communities regulated the relative production of enzymes by increasing the ratio of β-glucosidase (BG, C-acquiring enzyme) to leucine aminopeptidase (LAP, N-acquiring enzyme), even though both enzymatic activities decreased with S addition.

Results of structural equation modeling (SEM) suggested that the increased microbial carbon-use efficiency (CUE) counteracted the negative effect of metal stress (i.e., aluminum and manganese) under soil acidification.

Journal Information: Tianpeng Li et al, Enhanced carbon acquisition and use efficiency alleviate microbial carbon relative to nitrogen limitation under soil acidification, Ecological Processes (2021). DOI: 10.1186/s13717-021-00309-1

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