Structure of a microbial community in soil after prolonged addition of low levels of simulated acid rain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Humus samples were collected 12 growing seasons after the start of a simulated acid rain experiment situated in the subarctic environment. The acid rain was simulated with H2SO4, a combination of H2SO4 and HNO3, and HNO3 at two levels of moderate acidic loads close to the natural anthropogenic pollution levels of southern Scandinavia. The higher levels of acid applications resulted in acidification, as defined by humus chemistry. The concentrations of base cations decreased, while the concentrations of exchangeable H+, Al, and Fe increased. Humus pH decreased from 3.83 to 3.65. Basal respiration decreased with decreasing humus pH, and total microbial biomass, measured by substrate-induced respiration and total amount of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA), decreased slightly. An altered PLFA pattern indicated a change in the microbial community structure at the higher levels of acid applications. In general, branched fatty acids, typical of gram-positive bacteria, increased in the acid plots. PLFA analysis performed on the bacterial community growing on agar plates also showed that the relative amount of PLFA specific for gram-positive bacteria increased due to the acidification. The changed bacterial community was adapted to the more acidic environment in the acid-treated plots, even though bacterial growth rates, estimated by thymidine and leucine incorporation, decreased with pH. Fungal activity (measured as acetate incorporation into ergosterol) was not affected. This result indicates that bacteria were more affected than fungi by the acidification. The capacity of the bacterial community to utilize 95 different carbon sources was variable and only showed weak correlations to pH. Differences in the toxicities of H2SO4 and HNO3 for the microbial community were not found.


  • Taina Pennanen
  • Hannu Fritze
  • Pekka Vanhala
  • Oili Kiikkilä
  • Seppo Neuvonen
  • Erland Bååth
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2173-2180
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Publication categoryResearch

Total downloads

No data available