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Environmental effects on soil microbial nitrogen use efficiency are controlled by allocation of organic nitrogen to microbial growth and regulate gross N mineralization

Zhang, Shasha, Zheng, Qing, Noll, Lisa, Hu, Yuntao, Wanek, Wolfgang
Soil biology & biochemistry 2019 v.135 pp. 304-315
aerobic conditions, bedrock, biomass, cropland, ecosystems, energy, environmental impact, forests, grasslands, land use, limestone, metabolism, microbial communities, microbial growth, microbial nitrogen, mineralization, nutrient use efficiency, oxygen, silicates, soil microorganisms, soil temperature, soil water, water holding capacity
Microbial nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is the efficiency by which microbes allocate organic N acquired to biomass formation relative to the N in excess of microbial demand released through N mineralization. Microbial NUE thus is critical to estimate the capacity of soil microbes to retain N in soils and thereby affects inorganic N availability to plants and ecosystem N losses. However, how soil temperature and soil moisture/O2 affect microbial NUE to date is not clear. Therefore, two independent incubation experiments were conducted with soils from three land uses (cropland, grassland and forest) on two bedrocks (silicate and limestone). Soils were exposed to 5, 15 and 25 °C overnight at 60% water holding capacity (WHC) or acclimated to 30 and 60% WHC at 21% O2 and to 90% WHC at 1% O2 over one week at 20 °C. Microbial NUE was measured as microbial growth over microbial organic N uptake (the sum of growth N demand and gross N mineralization). Microbial NUE responded positively to temperature increases with Q10 values ranging from 1.30 ± 0.11 to 2.48 ± 0.67. This was due to exponentially increasing microbial growth rates with incubation temperature while gross N mineralization rates were relatively insensitive to temperature increases (Q10 values 0.66 ± 0.30 to 1.63 ± 0.15). Under oxic conditions (21% O2), microbial NUE as well as gross N mineralization were not stimulated by the increase in soil moisture from 30 to 60% WHC. Under suboxic conditions (90% WHC and 1% O2), microbial NUE markedly declined as microbial growth rates were strongly negatively affected due to increasing microbial energy limitation. In contrast, gross N mineralization rates increased strongly as organic N uptake became in excess of microbial growth N demand. Therefore, in the moisture/O2 experiment microbial NUE was mainly regulated by the shift in O2 status (to suboxic conditions) and less affected by increasing water availability per se. These temperature and moisture/O2 effects on microbial organic N metabolism were consistent across the soils differing in bedrock and land use. Overall it has been demonstrated that microbial NUE was controlled by microbial growth, and that NUE controlled gross N mineralization as an overflow metabolism when energy (C) became limiting or N in excess in soils. This study thereby greatly contributes to the understanding of short-term environmental responses of microbial community N metabolism and the regulation of microbial organic-inorganic N transformations in soils.