Microbial “hotspots” of organic matter decomposition in temperate peatlands are driven by local spatial heterogeneity in abiotic conditions and not by vegetation structure

Briones, M.J.I. and Juan-Ovejero, R. and McNamara, N.P. and Ostle, N.J. (2022) Microbial “hotspots” of organic matter decomposition in temperate peatlands are driven by local spatial heterogeneity in abiotic conditions and not by vegetation structure. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 165. ISSN 0038-0717

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Climate change is triggering rapid shifts in plant communities and alterations in soil abiotic conditions in peatlands, with cascading effects on belowground decomposers and ecosystem C turnover. However, elucidating the dominant causal relationships between plant communities, soil biota and C fluxes in these vulnerable ecosystems requires a better understanding of the spatio-temporal variability of abiotic and biotic drivers. In this study we investigated the effects of biotic (plant functional types, PFTs) and abiotic factors (soil temperature and soil moisture) in determining dynamic patterns of soil microbial community structure and C cycling. Four representative temperate peatland habitats were selected based on their peat forming vegetation – an Atlantic wet heathland, two active blanket bogs with herbaceous plants (Molinia caerulea and Eriophorum angustifolium), and a transition mire dominated by Sphagnum mosses located along an altitudinal gradient to include the natural variations in soil temperature and water content regimes. We found that peat microbial communities were more strongly linked to local abiotic conditions than to the dominant above-ground vegetation. Aerobic conditions and warmer temperatures accelerated fungal driven decomposition and CO2 emissions under shrubs, whereas decreases in Gram−negative bacteria promoted increased C losses under Molinia. These findings suggest that small spatial differences in abiotic conditions can create local “hotspots” of organic matter decomposition. We propose that temperate peatlands should be considered as ‘ecosystem sentinels’ for climate change, acting as early-warning indicators of climate-carbon feedbacks.

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Journal Article
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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
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This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Soil Biology and Biochemistry. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 165, 2022 DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2021.108501
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09 Sep 2022 09:00
Last Modified:
21 Sep 2023 03:12