Biotic and abiotic drivers of soil microbial functions across tree diversity experiments
Aim: Soil microorganisms are essential for the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Although soil microbial communities and functions may be linked to the tree species composition and diversity of forests, there has been no comprehensive study of how general potential relationships are and if these are context-dependent. A global network of tree diversity experiments (TreeDivNet) allows for a first examination of tree diversity-soil microbial function relationships across environmental
... ts. Location: Global. Major Taxa Studied: Soil microorganisms. Methods: Soil samples collected from eleven tree diversity experiments in four biomes across four continents were used to measure soil basal respiration, microbial biomass, and carbon use efficiency using the substrate-induced respiration method. All samples were measured using the same analytical device in the same laboratory to prevent measurement bias. We used linear mixed-effects models to examine the effects of tree species diversity, environmental conditions, and their interactions on soil microbial functions. Results: Across biodiversity experiments, abiotic drivers, mainly soil water content, significantly increased soil microbial functions. Potential evapotranspiration (PET) increased, whereas soil C-to-N ratio (CN) decreased soil microbial functions under dry soil conditions, but high soil water content reduced the importance of other abiotic drivers. Tree species richness and phylogenetic diversity had overall similar, but weak and context-dependent (climate, soil abiotic variables) effects on soil microbial respiration. Positive tree diversity effects on soil microbial respiration were most pronounced at low PET, low soil CN, and high tree density. Soil microbial functions increased with the age of the experiment. Main conclusions: Our results point at the importance of soil water content for maintaining high levels of soil microbial functions and modulating effects of other environmental drivers. Moreover, overall tree diversity effects on soil microbial functions seem to be negligible in the short term (experiments were 1-18 years old). However, context-dependent tree diversity effects (climate, soil abiotic variables) have greater importance at high tree density, and significant effects of experimental age call for longer-term studies. Such systematic insights are key to better integrate soil carbon dynamics into the management of afforestation projects across environmental contexts, as today's reforestation efforts remain focused largely on aboveground carbon storage and are still dominated by less diverse forests stands of commercial species.