Red Alder (Almus rubra) Alters Community-Level Soil Microbial Function in Conifer Forests of the Pacific Northwest, USA

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Soil Biology & Biochemistry



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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.

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