• Global Warming:

    the threat of a permafrost Carbon – climate feedback

  • We develop and improve

    stable isotopes techniques for ecological applications

  • Plants, fungi and bacteria interact

    at the root-soil interface

  • Probing the future:

    Climate Change experiments

  • Soil is fundamental to human life

  • Tropical rainforests

    hold the key to global net primary productivity

TER News

Latest publications

The ecology of heterogeneity: soil bacterial communities and C dynamics

Heterogeneity is a fundamental property of soil that is often overlooked in microbial ecology. Although it is generally accepted that the heterogeneity of soil underpins the emergence and maintenance of microbial diversity, the profound and far-reaching consequences that heterogeneity can have on many aspects of microbial ecology and activity have yet to be fully apprehended and have not been fully integrated into our understanding of microbial functioning. In this contribution we first discuss how the heterogeneity of the soil microbial environment, and the consequent uncertainty associated with acquiring resources, may have affected how microbial metabolism, motility and interactions evolved and, ultimately, the overall microbial activity that is represented in ecosystem models, such as heterotrophic decomposition or respiration. We then present an analysis of predicted metabolic pathways for soil bacteria, obtained from the MetaCyc pathway/genome database collection (https://metacyc.org/). The analysis suggests that while there is a relationship between phylogenic affiliation and the catabolic range of soil bacterial taxa, there does not appear to be a trade-off between the 16S rRNA gene copy number, taken as a proxy of potential growth rate, of bacterial strains and the range of substrates that can be used. Finally, we present a simple, spatially explicit model that can be used to understand how the interactions between decomposers and environmental heterogeneity affect the bacterial decomposition of organic matter, suggesting that environmental heterogeneity might have important consequences on the variability of this process.

Nunan N, Schmidt H, Raynaud X
2020 - Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 1798: 11

Direct measurement of the in situ decomposition of microbial-derived soil organic matter

Soil organic matter (SOM) is the dominant reservoir of terrestrial organic carbon and nitrogen, and microbial necromass represents a primary input to it. However, knowledge of stabilization mechanisms and direct measurements of the decomposition of microbial-derived SOM are lacking. Here we report a novel 15N isotope pool dilution approach using labeled amino sugars and muropeptides as tracers to quantify the decomposition of proteins and microbial cell walls, which allows to estimate in situ decomposition rates of microbial-derived SOM. Our results demonstrate that microbial cell walls are as recalcitrant as soil protein, exhibiting comparable turnover times across various ecosystems. The bacterial peptidoglycan in soils was primarily decomposed to muropeptides which can be directly utilized by microbes without being further depolymerized to free amino compounds. Moreover, bacterial peptidoglycan decomposition was correlated with soil microbial biomass while fungal chitin and soil protein decomposition were correlated with high soil pH and fine soil texture. This approach thereby provides new insights into the decomposition pathways and stabilization mechanisms of microbial-derived SOM constituents pertaining to SOM persistence.

Hu Y, Zheng Q, Noll L, zhang S, Wanek W
2020 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 141: Article 107660

Lability classification of soil organic matter in the northern permafrost region

The large stocks of soil organic carbon (SOC) in soils and deposits of the northern permafrost region are sensitive to global warming and permafrost thawing. The potential release of this carbon (C) as greenhouse gases to the atmosphere does not only depend on the total quantity of soil organic matter (SOM) affected by warming and thawing, but it also depends on its lability (i.e., the rate at which it will decay). In this study we develop a simple and robust classification scheme of SOM lability for the main types of soils and deposits in the northern permafrost region. The classification is based on widely available soil geochemical parameters and landscape unit classes, which makes it useful for upscaling to the entire northern permafrost region. We have analyzed the relationship between C content and C-CO2 production rates of soil samples in two different types of laboratory incubation experiments. In one experiment, ca. 240 soil samples from four study areas were incubated using the same protocol (at 5 C, aerobically) over a period of 1 year. Here we present C release rates measured on day 343 of incubation. These long-term results are compared to those obtained from short-term incubations of ca. 1000 samples (at 12 C, aerobically) from an additional three study areas. In these experiments, C-CO2 production rates were measured over the first 4 d of incubation. We have focused our analyses on the relationship between C-CO2 production per gram dry weight per day (µgC-CO2 gdw−1 d−1) and C content (%C of dry weight) in the samples, but we show that relationships are consistent when using C ∕ N ratios or different production units such as µgC per gram soil C per day (µgC-CO2 gC−1 d−1) or per cm3 of soil per day (µgC-CO2 cm−3 d−1). C content of the samples is positively correlated to C-CO2 production rates but explains less than 50 % of the observed variability when the full datasets are considered. A partitioning of the data into landscape units greatly reduces variance and provides consistent results between incubation experiments. These results indicate that relative SOM lability decreases in the order of Late Holocene eolian deposits to alluvial deposits and mineral soils (including peaty wetlands) to Pleistocene yedoma deposits to C-enriched pockets in cryoturbated soils to peat deposits. Thus, three of the most important SOC storage classes in the northern permafrost region (yedoma, cryoturbated soils and peatlands) show low relative SOM lability. Previous research has suggested that SOM in these pools is relatively undecomposed, and the reasons for the observed low rates of decomposition in our experiments need urgent attention if we want to better constrain the magnitude of the thawing permafrost carbon feedback on global warming.

Kuhry P, Barta J, Blok D, Elberling B, Faucherre S, Hugelius G, Jørgensen C J, Richter A, Santruckova H, Weiss N
2020 - Biogeosciences, 17: 361-379

Lecture series

Microbial ecology of nitrogen cycling in paddy soils

Yong-Guan Zhu
Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences & Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences
27.06.2019
09:00 h
Lecture Hall HS 5, UZA2 (Geocentre), Althanstrasse 14, 1090 Vienna

How to meet the Paris 2°C target: Which are the main constraints that will need to be overcome?

Ivan Janssens
Centre of Excellence of Global Change Ecology, University of Antwerp, Belgium
15.11.2018
12:00 h
Lecture Hall HS2 (UZA 1), Althanstraße 14, 1090 Vienna

Soil C dynamics –when are microbial communities in control?

Naoise Nunan
Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences IEES Paris, France
25.10.2018
12:00 h
Lecture Hall HS2 (UZA 1), Althanstraße 14, 1090 Vienna