Long term drought and warming alter soil bacterial and fungal communities in an upland heathland

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Abstract: The response of soil microbial communities to a changing climate will impact global biogeochemical cycles, potentially leading to positive and negative feedbacks. However, our understanding of how soil microbial communities respond to climate change and the implications of these changes for future soil function is limited. Here, we assess the response of soil bacterial and fungal communities to long-term experimental climate change in a heathland organo-mineral soil. We analysed microbial communities using Illumina sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene and ITS2 region at two depths, from plots undergoing 4 and 18 years of in situ summer drought or warming. We also assessed the colonisation of Calluna vulgaris roots by ericoid and dark septate endophytic (DSE) fungi using microscopy after 16 years of climate treatment. We found significant changes in both the bacterial and fungal communities in response to drought and warming, likely mediated by changes in soil pH and electrical conductivity. Changes in the microbial communities were more pronounced after a longer period of climate manipulation. Additionally, the subsoil communities of the long-term warmed plots became similar to the topsoil. Ericoid mycorrhizal colonisation decreased with depth while DSEs increased; however, these trends with depth were removed by warming. We largely ascribe the observed changes in microbial communities to shifts in plant cover and subsequent feedback on soil physicochemical properties, especially pH. Our results demonstrate the importance of considering changes in soil microbial responses to climate change across different soil depths and after extended periods of time.


  • Bacteria, Climate change, Drought, Fungi, Heathland, Mycorrhiza, Warming
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1279-1294
Number of pages16
Issue number6
Early online date19 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022

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