Soil Microbial Responses to Elevated CO2 and O3 in a Nitrogen-Aggrading Agroecosystem
Climate change factors such as elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone (O3) can exert significant impacts on soil microbes and the ecosystem level processes they mediate. However, the underlying mechanisms by which soil microbes respond to these environmental changes remain poorly understood.
The prevailing hypothesis, which states that CO2- or O3-induced changes in carbon (C) availability dominate microbial responses, is primarily based on results from nitrogen (N)-limiting forests and grasslands. It remains largely unexplored how soil microbes respond to elevated CO2 and O3 in N-rich or N-aggrading systems, which severely hinders our ability to predict the long-term soil C dynamics in agroecosystems.
Using a long-term field study conducted in a no-till wheat-soybean rotation system with open-top chambers, we showed that elevated CO2 but not O3 had a potent influence on soil microbes.
Elevated CO2 (1.5×ambient) significantly increased, while O3(1.4×ambient) reduced, aboveground (and presumably belowground) plant residue C and N inputs to soil. However, only elevated CO2 significantly affected soil microbial biomass, activities (namely heterotrophic respiration) and community composition. The enhancement of microbial biomass and activities by elevated CO2 largely occurred in the third and fourth years of the experiment and coincided with increased soil N availability, likely due to CO2-stimulation of symbiotic N2 fixation in soybean. Fungal biomass and the fungi:bacteria ratio decreased under both ambient and elevated CO2 by the third year and also coincided with increased soil N availability; but they were significantly higher under elevated than ambient CO2.
These results suggest that more attention should be directed towards assessing the impact of N availability on microbial activities and decomposition in projections of soil organic C balance in N-rich systems under future CO2 scenarios.