Increases in soil respiration following labile carbon additions linked to rapid shifts in soil microbial community composition

Cory C. Cleveland, Diana R. Nemergut, Steven K. Schmidt, Alan R. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

359 Scopus citations


Organic matter decomposition and soil CO2 efflux are both mediated by soil microorganisms, but the potential effects of temporal variations in microbial community composition are not considered in most analytical models of these two important processes. However, inconsistent relationships between rates of heterotrophic soil respiration and abiotic factors, including temperature and moisture, suggest that microbial community composition may be an important regulator of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition and CO2 efflux. We performed a short-term (12-h) laboratory incubation experiment using tropical rain forest soil amended with either water (as a control) or dissolved organic matter (DOM) leached from native plant litter, and analyzed the effects of the treatments on soil respiration and microbial community composition. The latter was determined by constructing clone libraries of small-subunit ribosomal RNA genes (SSU rRNA) extracted from the soil at the end of the incubation experiment. In contrast to the subtle effects of adding water alone, additions of DOM caused a rapid and large increase in soil CO2 flux. DOM-stimulated CO2 fluxes also coincided with profound shifts in the abundance of certain members of the soil microbial community. Our results suggest that natural DOM inputs may drive high rates of soil respiration by stimulating an opportunistic subset of the soil bacterial community, particularly members of the Gammaproteobacteria and Firmicutes groups. Our experiment indicates that variations in microbial community composition may influence SOM decomposition and soil respiration rates, and emphasizes the need for in situ studies of how natural variations in microbial community composition regulate soil biogeochemical processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-240
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Carbon cycle
  • DOM
  • Decomposition
  • Dissolved organic matter
  • Microbial community composition
  • Organic matter
  • Soil respiration


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