Composition and carbon utilization of soil microbial communities subjected to long-term nitrogen fertilization in a temperate grassland in northern China
Abstract Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling in soil during microbial decomposition is well studied, yet the mechanism underlying the response of microbial C utilization to the presence of N still remains an open question. This study was designed to determine the effect of long-term N fertilization on grassland microbial communities, and to explore if the alteration of labile C utilization of microbial communities was affected by N. A 35-day multi-factorial incubation experiment with three N fertilization rates 0, 4, or 16gNm −2 yr −1 (applied as urea) and one C substrate application, 0.4mg 13 C glucose g −1 soil was conducted using a temperate grassland soil. Soil respiration, inorganic N, soil total C (TC) and total N (TN), and 13 C-phospholipid fatty acids were measured. High N fertilization rate (16gNm −2 yr −1 ) increased soil inorganic nitrogen (ION) significantly and resulted in a significant drop of soil pH, which decreased from a neutral (∼pH 7) to pH 5.8. Long-term N fertilization caused an increased 13 C utilization of gram-positive bacteria and actinomycetes, but reduced 13 C utilization of gram-negative bacteria and fungi. Low and high N levels had inconsistent impacts on the temporal patterns of 13 C distribution in saprophytic fungi and ratios of incorporated 13 C in cyclopropyl to its precursor during the course of the decomposition. Decomposition theories such as ‘nutrient stoichiometry’ and ‘N mining’ were both supported in this study, as N mining was least prominent in soil with high N fertilization rates, while optimal nutrient ratio existed when labile C was added in soil under low N level. N fertilization in the temperate grassland might regulate the shift in labile C and SOM between microbial C utilization. To further understand the coupling of soil C and N, future work should focus on the beginning of the decomposition process, and increase the sampling frequency. Highlights N switches microbial composition to more gram-positive bacteria but less fungi. N weakens the contributions to glucose utilization in gram-negative bacteria and fungi. N regulates the dynamics of glucose utilization in gram-negative bacteria and fungi. Theories of ‘nutrient stoichiometry’ and ‘N mining’ are supported in the study. No soil C accumulation by N can be explained by the C sources shift in microorganisms.
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