Just published in Frontiers in Microbiology: Two decades of warming increases diversity of a potentially lignolytic bacterial community
As Earth's climate warms, the massive stores of carbon found in soil are predicted to become depleted, and leave behind a smaller carbon pool that is less accessible to microbes. At a long-term forest soil-warming experiment in central Massachusetts, soil respiration and bacterial diversity have increased, while fungal biomass and microbially-accessible soil carbon have decreased. Here, we evaluate how warming has affected the microbial community's capability to degrade chemically-complex soil carbon using lignin-amended BioSep beads. We profiled the bacterial and fungal communities using PCR-based methods and completed extracellular enzyme assays as a proxy for potential community function. We found that lignin-amended beads selected for a distinct community containing bacterial taxa closely related to known lignin degraders, as well as members of many genera not previously noted as capable of degrading lignin. Warming tended to drive bacterial community structure more strongly in the lignin beads, while the effect on the fungal community was limited to unamended beads. Of those bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs) enriched by the warming treatment, many were enriched uniquely on lignin-amended beads. These taxa may be contributing to enhanced soil respiration under warming despite reduced readily available C availability. In aggregate, these results suggest that there is genetic potential for chemically complex soil carbon degradation that may lead to extended elevated soil respiration with long-term warming.