Differential resilience of soil microbes and ecosystem functions following cessation of long-term fertilization

TitleDifferential resilience of soil microbes and ecosystem functions following cessation of long-term fertilization
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsNieland, MA, Moley, P, Hanschu, J, Zeglin, LH
Accession NumberKNZ002058

Nitrogen (N) from anthropogenic sources has dramatically increased in terrestrial ecosystems globally. Although belowground microbial processes and events that release N into the atmosphere, such as fire, could support ecosystem resilience to eutrophication, little is known about how these factors might affect N loss following chronic fertilization, thus promoting ecosystem recovery. We studied how N pools, N-cycling potential rates and their affiliated microbial populations, and microbial community composition responded to the factorial effects of cessation of 30 years of chronic N fertilization and annual burning at a tallgrass prairie. Soil N availability in previously fertilized plots recovered by 86% (using never-fertilized control plots as a 100% recovery reference), while plant and microbial biomass did not change. Nitrification potential recovered (80%), and denitrification potential partially recovered (50%), in previously fertilized plots. There were differential responses among key groups of nitrifiers (archaea vs. bacteria) and denitrifiers (nosZ clade I vs. clade II from Anaeromyxobacter dehalogenans) to long-term N fertilization and cessation despite the whole microbial community composition not shifting significantly after fertilization ceased. Also, N-cycling potentials were consistently higher in unburned prairie. Together, results suggest that fire is a prominent mechanism for ecosystem N removal in annually burned prairie, while N-cycling microbes will have an important role in the absence of fire; however, the recovery to pre-fertilized condition, with or without fire, will take longer than 1 year. Overall, differential resilience of biotic populations and processes can potentially shape different outcomes of soil N loss and tallgrass prairie ecosystem recovery from long-term N fertilization.