EGU21-8870, updated on 04 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Drought intensity effects on grassland plant communities and soil microbial community function

Natalie Oram1,2, Johannes Ingrisch1, Gerd Gleixner4, Nadine Praeg5, Paul Illmer5, Fiona Brennan2, Richard Bardgett3, and Michael Bahn1
Natalie Oram et al.
  • 1Department of Ecology, Universität Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  • 2Environment, Soils and Land Use Department, Teagasc, Johnstown Castle, Ireland
  • 3Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  • 4Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany
  • 5Department of Microbiology, Universität Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.

Plant and soil communities are intimately connected. Plants shape soil microbial community composition through their resource acquisition strategies and via root carbon (C) inputs, which has cascading effects on biogeochemical cycles. Drought has been shown to disrupt the connection between plants and soil microorganisms. However, the effects of drought intensity on soil microbial community functioning, including the uptake of recent plant-derived C, are largely unknown. Here, we determined how two plant communities with contrasting resource acquisition strategies (acquisitive versus conservative) responded to a gradient of drought (control, and eight drought intensities). Using a 13C pulse labelling approach, we tracked C allocated from plants to soil and its uptake by the microbial community. We measured potential extracellular enzyme activity as a proxy of microbial community functioning. We hypothesized that (1) drought responses are non-linear, and (2) acquisitive plant communities have lower drought resistance but recover faster than conservative plant communities, which is reflected in lower 13C transfer and reduced microbial functioning during drought and increases after drought. In general, we found that the responses we measured were non-linearly related to drought intensity. After three weeks of drought, drought intensity decreased aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) of both plant communities. Soil extractable organic 13C decreased with increasing drought intensity, indicating that less recently assimilated C was allocated to root exudation. Although microbial biomass remained stable over the drought intensity gradient, 13C uptake into microbial biomass decreased at peak drought, and was lower in the conservative vs. acquisitive plant community at mild drought levels. Potential enzyme activity of β-1,4-glucosidase, involved in cellulose breakdown, and  β-N-acetyl-glucosaminidase, involved in chitin breakdown, decreased with increasing drought intensity. Urease activity was higher in conservative than acquisitive plant communities exposed to drought. Seven days after re-wetting, we found that microbial uptake of 13C increased along the drought gradient and was higher than the control in communities previously subjected to high drought intensities. This fast microbial recovery could affect nutrient mobilisation, which could underlie longer-term plant community recovery. Two months after re-wetting, we indeed found that plant communities that had previously experienced high drought intensity (> 75% soil water deficit) had higher ANPP than the control. We conclude that drought intensity has significant non-linear effects on microbial uptake of recent plant C and on potential extracellular enzyme activities both during drought and recovery, with consequences for plant community recovery dynamics.  

How to cite: Oram, N., Ingrisch, J., Gleixner, G., Praeg, N., Illmer, P., Brennan, F., Bardgett, R., and Bahn, M.: Drought intensity effects on grassland plant communities and soil microbial community function, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-8870,, 2021.

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