Bacterial and fungal abundance and biomass in conventional and no-tillage agroecosystems along two climatic gradients


Microbial community composition may be an important determinant of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition rates and nutrient turnover and availability in agricultural soils. Soil samples were collected from six long-term tillage comparison experiments located along two climatic gradients to examine the effects of no-tillage (NT) and conventional tillage (CT) management on bacterial and fungal abundance and biomass and to examine potential controls on the relative abundances of bacteria and fungi in these two systems. Samples were divided into 0–5 and 5–20 cm depth increments and analyzed for bacterial and fungal abundance and biomass, total C and N, particulate organic matter C and N (POM-C and N), soil water content, texture, pH, and water-stable aggregate distributions. Soil moisture, which varied by tillage treatment and geographically with climate, ranged from 0.05 to 0.35 g g−1 dry soil in the surface 0–5 cm and 0.15 to 0.28 g g−1 dry soil at 5–20 cm. Measured organic matter C and N fractions and mean weight diameter (MWD) of water-stable aggregates were significantly higher in NT relative to CT at three of the six sites. Fungal hyphal length ranged from 19 to 292 m g−1 soil and was 1.9 to 2.5 times higher in NT compared to CT surface soil across all sites. Few significant tillage treatment differences in soil physical and chemical properties or in fungal abundance and biomass were observed at 5–20 cm. Bacterial abundance and biomass were not consistently influenced by tillage treatment or site location at either depth. The proportion of the total biomass composed of fungi ranged from 10 to 60% and was significantly higher in NT compared to CT surface soil at five of six sites. Proportional fungal biomass was not strongly related to soil texture, pH, aggregation, or organic C and N fractions, but was positively related to soil moisture (r=0.67; P<0.001). The relationship between soil moisture and the degree of fungal dominance was due to the positive response of fungal biomass and the lack of response of bacterial biomass to increasing soil moisture across the range of measured soil water contents. Tillage treatment effects on fungal biomass and proportional fungal abundance were not significant when the data were analyzed by analysis of covariance with soil moisture as the covariate. These results suggest that observed tillage treatment and climate gradient effects on fungi are related to differences in soil moisture. Further research is needed, however, to determine how tillage-induced changes in the soil environment shape microbial community composition in agroecosystems.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Soil Biology and Biochemistry



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