Red Alder (Almus rubra) Alters Community-Level Soil Microbial Function in Conifer Forests of the Pacific Northwest, USA
Soil Biology & Biochemistry
Nitrogen-fixing tree species have been shown to improve site fertility and increase N transformation rates, but the influence of N-fixing plants on the soil microbial community as a whole is largely unknown. We used patterns of individual carbon-source utilization and enzyme activities to assess the relative effects of N-fixing red alder on the soil microbial community in three adjacent stands (pure conifer, mixed alder-conifer, and pure alder) of a highly productive coastal Oregon forest where the density of red alder has been experimentally manipulated for over 65 years. Two major patterns were revealed: (1) bacterial and fungal carbon-source utilization patterns in soil from pure conifer stands were significantly different from both pure alder soils and mixed conifer-alder soils, while there was no difference in substrate utilization patterns between soils from the mixed alder-conifer and pure alder stands; and (2) the activities of nine extracellular enzymes involved in ligno-cellulose degradation and the mineralization of organic nitrogen, phosphate, and sulfate compounds were all significantly greater in pure alder soils compared to either pure conifer or mixed conifer-alder soils. Our results show that, in addition to an overall increase in soil fertility, microbial biomass, and microbial activity, the presence of N-fixing red alder significantly alters the physiological profile of the microbial community-even in an ecosystem already of high N status.
Selmants, P.C., S.C. Hart, S.I. Boyle, and J.M. Stark. 2005. Red alder (Alnus rubra) alters community-level soil microbial function in conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest, USA. Soil Biology & Biochemistry 37:1860-1868.