Influence of microbial populations and residue quality on aggregate stability


Soil structure mediates many biological and physical soil processes and is therefore an important soil property. Physical soil processes, such as aggregation, can be markedly influenced by both residue quality and soil microbial community structure. Three experiments were conducted to examine (i) the temporal dynamics of aggregate formation and the water stability of the obtained aggregates, (ii) the effect of residue quality on aggregation and microbial respiration, and (iii) the effect of fungi and bacteria on aggregation.

In the first experiment, 250 μm sieved air-dried soil, mixed with wheat straw, was incubated for 14 days to allow formation of water-stable macroaggregates (>250 μm). Aggregate stability was measured by wet sieving after four different disruptive treatments: (i) soil at field capacity; (ii) soil air-dried and slowly wetted; (iii) soil air-dried and quickly wetted; (iv) 8 mm sieved soil, air-dried and immersed in water (slaking). After 14 days of incubation, maximum aggregation for soil sieved at field capacity was reached; however, these newly formed aggregates were not yet resistant to slaking.

During the second experiment, the effect of low-quality residue (C/N: 108) (with or without extra mineral nitrogen) and high-quality residue (C/N: 19.7) (without extra mineral nitrogen) on macroaggregate formation and fungal and bacterial populations was tested. After 14 days, aggregation, microbial respiration, and total microbial biomass were not significantly different between the low-quality (minus mineral nitrogen) and high-quality residue treatment. However, fungal biomass was higher for the low-quality residue treatment compared to the high-quality residue treatment. In contrast, bacterial populations were favored by the high-quality residue treatment. Addition of mineral N in the low-quality residue treatment resulted in reduced macroaggregate formation and fungal biomass, but had no effect on bacterial biomass. These observations are not conclusive for the function of fungal and/or bacterial biomass in relation to macroaggregate formation. In order to directly discern the influence of soil microflora on aggregation, a third experiment was conducted in which a fungicide (captan) or bactericide (oxytetracycline) was applied to selectively suppress fungal or bacterial populations. The direct suppression of fungal growth by addition of fungicide led to reduced macroaggregate formation. However, suppression of bacterial growth by addition of bactericide did not lead to reduced macroaggregate formation. In conclusion, macroaggregate formation was positively influenced by fungal activity but was not significantly influenced by residue quality or bacterial activity.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Applied Soil Ecology



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