• 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

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Latest publications

Soil multifunctionality is affected by the soil environment and by microbial community composition and diversity

Microorganisms are critical in mediating carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling processes in soils. Yet, it has long been debated whether the processes underlying biogeochemical cycles are affected by the composition and diversity of the soil microbial community or not. The composition and diversity of soil microbial communities can be influenced by various environmental factors, which in turn are known to impact biogeochemical processes. The objectives of this study were to test effects of multiple edaphic drivers individually and represented as the multivariate soil environment interacting with microbial community composition and diversity, and concomitantly on multiple soil functions (i.e. soil enzyme activities, soil C and N processes). We employed high-throughput sequencing (Illumina MiSeq) to analyze bacterial/archaeal and fungal community composition by targeting the 16S rRNA gene and the ITS1 region of soils collected from three land uses (cropland, grassland and forest) deriving from two bedrock forms (silicate and limestone). Based on this data set we explored single and combined effects of edaphic variables on soil microbial community structure and diversity, as well as on soil enzyme activities and several soil C and N processes. We found that both bacterial/archaeal and fungal communities were shaped by the same edaphic factors, with most single edaphic variables and the combined soil environment representation exerting stronger effects on bacterial/archaeal communities than on fungal communities, as demonstrated by (partial) Mantel tests. We also found similar edaphic controls on the bacterial/archaeal/fungal richness and diversity. Soil C processes were only directly affected by the soil environment but not affected by microbial community composition. In contrast, soil N processes were significantly related to bacterial/archaeal community composition and bacterial/archaeal/fungal richness/diversity but not directly affected by the soil environment. This indicates direct control of the soil environment on soil C processes and indirect control of the soil environment on soil N processes by structuring the microbial communities. The study further highlights the importance of edaphic drivers and microbial communities (i.e. composition and diversity) on important soil C and N processes.

Zheng Q, Hu Y, zhang S, Noll L, Böckle T, Dietrich M, Herbold CW, Eichhorst SA, Woebken D, Richter A, Wanek W
2019 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 136: Article 107521

Substrate quality and concentration control decomposition and microbial strategies in a model soil system

Soil carbon models typically scale decomposition linearly with soil carbon (C) concentration, but this linear relationship has not been experimentally verified. Here we investigated the underlying biogeochemical mechanisms controlling the relationships between soil C concentration and decomposition rates. We incubated a soil/sand mixture with increasing amounts of finely ground plant residue in the laboratory at constant temperature and moisture for 63 days. The plant residues were rye (Secale cereale, C/N ratio of 23) and wheat straw (Triticum spp., C/N ratio of 109) at seven soil C concentrations ranging from 0.38 to 2.99%. We measured soil respiration, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations, microbial biomass, and potential enzyme activities over the course of the incubation. Rye, which had higher N and DOC contents, lost 6 to 8 times more C as CO2 compared to wheat residue. Under rye and wheat amendment, absolute C losses as CO2 (calculated per g dry soil) increased linearly with C concentration while relative C losses as CO2 (expressed as percent of initial C) increased with C concentration following a quadratic function. In low C concentration treatments (0.38–0.79% OC), DOC decreased gradually from day 3 to day 63, microbial C increased towards the end in the rye treatment or decreased only slightly with straw amendment, and microbes invested in general enzymes such as proteases and oxidative enzymes. At increasing C levels, enzyme activity shifted to degrading cellulose after 15 days and degrading microbial necromass (e.g. chitin) after 63 days. At the highest C concentrations (2.99% OC), microbial biomass peaked early in the incubation and remained high in the rye treatment and decreased only slightly in the wheat treatment. While wheat lost C as CO2 constantly at all C concentrations, respiration dynamics in the rye treatment strongly depended on C concentration. Our results indicate that litter quality and C concentration regulate enzyme activities, DOC concentrations, and microbial respiration. The potential for non-linear relationships between soil C concentration and decomposition may need to be considered in soil C models and soil C sequestration management approaches.

Schnecker J, Bowles T, Hobbie EA, Smith RG, Grandy AS
2019 - Biogeochemistry, 144: 47-59

Environmental effects on soil microbial nitrogen use efficiency are controlled by allocation of organic nitrogen to microbial growth and regulate gross N mineralization

Microbial nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is the efficiency by which microbes allocate organic N acquired to biomass formation relative to the N in excess of microbial demand released through N mineralization. Microbial NUE thus is critical to estimate the capacity of soil microbes to retain N in soils and thereby affects inorganic N availability to plants and ecosystem N losses. However, how soil temperature and soil moisture/O2 affect microbial NUE to date is not clear. Therefore, two independent incubation experiments were conducted with soils from three land uses (cropland, grassland and forest) on two bedrocks (silicate and limestone). Soils were exposed to 5, 15 and 25 °C overnight at 60% water holding capacity (WHC) or acclimated to 30 and 60% WHC at 21% O2 and to 90% WHC at 1% O2 over one week at 20 °C. Microbial NUE was measured as microbial growth over microbial organic N uptake (the sum of growth N demand and gross N mineralization). Microbial NUE responded positively to temperature increases with Q10 values ranging from 1.30 ± 0.11 to 2.48 ± 0.67. This was due to exponentially increasing microbial growth rates with incubation temperature while gross N mineralization rates were relatively insensitive to temperature increases (Q10 values 0.66 ± 0.30 to 1.63 ± 0.15). Under oxic conditions (21% O2), microbial NUE as well as gross N mineralization were not stimulated by the increase in soil moisture from 30 to 60% WHC. Under suboxic conditions (90% WHC and 1% O2), microbial NUE markedly declined as microbial growth rates were strongly negatively affected due to increasing microbial energy limitation. In contrast, gross N mineralization rates increased strongly as organic N uptake became in excess of microbial growth N demand. Therefore, in the moisture/O2 experiment microbial NUE was mainly regulated by the shift in O2 status (to suboxic conditions) and less affected by increasing water availability per se. These temperature and moisture/O2 effects on microbial organic N metabolism were consistent across the soils differing in bedrock and land use. Overall it has been demonstrated that microbial NUE was controlled by microbial growth, and that NUE controlled gross N mineralization as an overflow metabolism when energy (C) became limiting or N in excess in soils. This study thereby greatly contributes to the understanding of short-term environmental responses of microbial community N metabolism and the regulation of microbial organic-inorganic N transformations in soils.

zhang S, Zheng Q, Noll L, Hu Y, Wanek W
2019 - Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 135: 304-315

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