EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Warming affects seasonal dynamics of microorganisms and reduces the N storage capacity of soil microbes in winter

Philipp Gündler1, Alberto Canarini1,2, Sara Marañón Jiménez3, Gunnhildur Gunnarsdóttir4, Páll Sigurðsson5, Josep Peñuelas3,6, Ivan A. Janssens7, Bjarni D. Sigurdsson4, and Andreas Richter1
Philipp Gündler et al.
  • 1Centre for Microbiology and Environmental System Science, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • 2Centre for Ecological Research, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
  • 3CREAF, Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain
  • 4Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Agricultural University of Iceland, Borgarnes, Iceland
  • 5Department of Forestry, Agricultural University of Iceland, IS-311 Borgarnes, Iceland
  • 6Global Ecology Unit, CREAF-CSIC-UAB, Bellaterra, Spain
  • 7Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Wilrjik, Belgium

Seasonality of soil microorganisms plays a critical role in terrestrial carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling. The asynchrony of immobilization by microbes and uptake by plants may be important for N retention during winter, when plants are inactive. Meanwhile, the known warming effects on soil microbes (decreasing biomass and increasing growth rates) may affect microbial seasonal dynamics and nutrient retention during winter.

We sampled soils from a geothermal warming site in Iceland ( which includes three in situ warming levels (ambient, +3 °C, +6 °C). We harvested soil samples at 9 time points over one year and measured the seasonal variation in microbial biomass carbon (Cmic) and nitrogen (Nmic) and microbial physiology (growth and carbon use efficiency) by an 18O-labelling technique.

We observed that Cmic and Nmic peaked in winter, followed by a decline in spring and summer. In contrast growth and respiration rates were higher in summer than winter. The observed biomass peak at lower growth rates, suggests that microbial death rates must have declined even more than growth rates. Soil warming increased biomass-specific microbial activity (i.e., growth, respiration, and turnover rates per unit of microbial biomass), prolonging the period of higher microbial activity found in summer into autumn and winter. Microbial carbon use efficiency was unaltered by soil warming. Throughout the seasons, warming reduced Cmic and Nmic, albeit with a stronger effect in winter than summer and restrained winter biomass accumulation by up to 78% compared to ambient conditions. We estimated a reduced microbial winter N storage capacity by 45.5 and 94.6 kg ha-1 at +3 °C and +6 °C warming respectively compared to ambient conditions. This reduction represents 1.57% and 3.26% of total soil N stocks, that could potentially be lost per year from these soils.

Our results clearly demonstrate that soil warming strongly decreases microbial C and N immobilization when plants are inactive, potentially leading to higher losses of C and N from warmed soils over winter. These results have important implications as increased N losses may restrict increased plant growth in a future climate.

How to cite: Gündler, P., Canarini, A., Marañón Jiménez, S., Gunnarsdóttir, G., Sigurðsson, P., Peñuelas, J., Janssens, I. A., Sigurdsson, B. D., and Richter, A.: Warming affects seasonal dynamics of microorganisms and reduces the N storage capacity of soil microbes in winter, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-13232,, 2021.


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