Nutrient addition dramatically accelerates microbial community succession

Joseph E. Knelman, Steven K. Schmidt, Ryan C. Lynch, John L. Darcy, Sarah C. Castle, Cory C. Cleveland, Diana R. Nemergut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The ecological mechanisms driving community succession are widely debated, particularly for microorganisms. While successional soil microbial communities are known to undergo predictable changes in structure concomitant with shifts in a variety of edaphic properties, the causal mechanisms underlying these patterns are poorly understood. Thus, to specifically isolate how nutrients - important drivers of plant succession - affect soil microbial succession, we established a full factorial nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilization plot experiment in recently deglaciated (∼3 years since exposure), unvegetated soils of the Puca Glacier forefield in Southeastern Peru. We evaluated soil properties and examined bacterial community composition in plots before and one year after fertilization. Fertilized soils were then compared to samples from three reference successional transects representing advancing stages of soil development ranging from 5 years to 85 years since exposure. We found that a single application of +NP fertilizer caused the soil bacterial community structure of the three-year old soils to most resemble the 85-year old soils after one year. Despite differences in a variety of soil edaphic properties between fertilizer plots and late successional soils, bacterial community composition of +NP plots converged with late successional communities. Thus, our work suggests a mechanism for microbial succession whereby changes in resource availability drive shifts in community composition, supporting a role for nutrient colimitation in primary succession. These results suggest that nutrients alone, independent of other edaphic factors that change with succession, act as an important control over soil microbial community development, greatly accelerating the rate of succession.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere102609
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 22 2014


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