Global change biology

Successional and seasonal variations in soil and litter microbial community structure and function during tropical postagricultural forest regeneration: a multiyear study.

PMID 25873563


Soil microorganisms regulate fundamental biochemical processes in plant litter decomposition and soil organic matter (SOM) transformations. Understanding how microbial communities respond to changes in vegetation is critical for improving predictions of how land-cover change affects belowground carbon storage and nutrient availability. We measured intra- and interannual variability in soil and forest litter microbial community composition and activity via phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA) and extracellular enzyme activity across a well-replicated, long-term chronosequence of secondary forests growing on abandoned pastures in the wet subtropical forest life zone of Puerto Rico. Microbial community PLFA structure differed between young secondary forests and older secondary and primary forests, following successional shifts in tree species composition. These successional patterns held across seasons, but the microbial groups driving these patterns differed over time. Microbial community composition from the forest litter differed greatly from those in the soil, but did not show the same successional trends. Extracellular enzyme activity did not differ with forest succession, but varied by season with greater rates of potential activity in the dry seasons. We found few robust significant relationships among microbial community parameters and soil pH, moisture, carbon, and nitrogen concentrations. Observed inter- and intrannual variability in microbial community structure and activity reveal the importance of a multiple, temporal sampling strategy when investigating microbial community dynamics with land-use change. Successional control over microbial composition with forest recovery suggests strong links between above and belowground communities.