Drought legacy affects microbial community trait distributions related to moisture along a savanna‐grassland precipitation gradient

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Abstract


Ecosystem models commonly use stable‐state assumptions to predict responses of soil microbial functions to environmental change. However, past climatic conditions can shape microbial functional responses resulting in a ‘legacy effect’. For instance, exposure to drier conditions in the field may shape how soil microbial communities respond to subsequent drought and drying and rewetting (DRW) events.
We investigated microbial tolerance to low moisture levels (‘resistance’) and ability to recover after a DRW perturbation (‘resilience’) across a steep precipitation gradient in Texas, USA.
Although differences in precipitation regime did not result in differences in resistance and resilience of soil microbes, microbial communities appeared to be generally resilient and resistant across the gradient, suggesting that frequent exposure to drought had characterised the trait distributions of microbial communities. Moreover, microbial communities from historically drier sites used carbon more efficiently during a DRW perturbation suggesting that long‐term drought history leaves a legacy effect on microbial functions. This may have been due to an indirect effect of drought caused via precipitation‐induced differences in primary productivity, influencing the availability of soil organic matter to microbes. Alternatively, different exposures to drought might have shaped the microbial ‘readiness’ to cope with the DRW disturbance. Microbial community composition was also linked to drought history, but was unrelated to variation in function.
Synthesis. Exposure to drought can have both direct and indirect effects on soil microbial communities, which can result in lasting legacy effects on the functions they control.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • National Bioinformatics Infrastructure Sweden (NBIS), SciLifeLab, Lund, Sweden.
  • University of Texas at Austin
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ecology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020 Nov 5
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes