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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Vol. 109, 20
17, Pages: 59–69

Temperature sensitivity of substrate-use efficiency can result from altered microbial physiology without change to community composition

Tobias Bölscher, Eric Paterson, Thomas Freitag, Barry Thornton, Anke M. Herrmann

Department of Chemistry & Biotechnology, BioCenter, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, P.O. Box 7015, SE-750 07, Uppsala, Sweden.


Mechanisms controlling carbon stabilisation in soil and its feedback to climate change are of considerable importance. Microbial substrate-use efficiency is an important property during decomposition of soil organic matter. It determines the allocation of substrate towards biosynthetic stabilisation of carbon and for respiratory losses into the atmosphere. Previously, it was observed that substrate-use efficiency declines with an increase in temperature and that it varies across organic substrates. Yet, our mechanistic understanding of processes causing the temperature sensitivity of substrate-use efficiency is limited. Changes in substrate-use efficiency could be triggered by (i) shifts in the active components of microbial communities, (ii) changes in microbial physiology within the same community, or (iii) a combination of both. In the present study, we evaluated the link between microbial community composition and substrate-use efficiency, combining measurements of carbon mineralisation and microbial energetics. We found only minor shifts in microbial community composition, despite large differences in substrate-use efficiencies across incubation temperatures and substrate additions. We conclude that short-term changes in substrate-use efficiency were mainly caused by changes in microbial physiology, but emphasize that future studies should focus on resolving long-term trade-offs between physiological and community influences on substrate-use efficiency.

Keywords: Carbon-use efficiency; Thermodynamic efficiency; Microbial community composition; Temperature sensitivity; Substrate quality; Isothermal calorimetry.

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