Microbial controls over soil priming effects under chronic nitrogen and phosphorus additions in subtropical forests

Jian Li, Zhan Feng Liu, Ming Kang Jin, Wei Zhang, Hans Lambers, Dafeng Hui, Chao Liang, Jing Zhang, Donghai Wu, Jordi Sardans, Josep Peñuelas, Daniel F. Petticord, David W. Frey, Yong Guan Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The soil priming effect (PE), defined as the modification of soil organic matter decomposition by labile carbon (C) inputs, is known to influence C storage in terrestrial ecosystems. However, how chronic nutrient addition, particularly in leguminous and non-leguminous forests, will affect PE through interaction with nutrient (e.g., nitrogen and phosphorus) availability is still unclear. Therefore, we collected soils from leguminous and non-leguminous subtropical plantations across a suite of historical nutrient addition regimes. We added 13C-labeled glucose to investigate how background soil nutrient conditions and microbial communities affect priming and its potential microbial mechanisms. Glucose addition increased soil organic matter decomposition and prompted positive priming in all soils, regardless of dominant overstory tree species or fertilizer treatment. In non-leguminous soil, only combined nitrogen and phosphorus addition led to a higher positive priming than the control. Conversely, soils beneath N-fixing leguminous plants responded positively to P addition alone, as well as to joint NP addition compared to control. Using DNA stable-isotope probing, high-throughput quantitative PCR, enzyme assays and microbial C substrate utilization, we found that positive PE was associated with increased microbial C utilization, accompanied by an increase in microbial community activity, nutrient-related gene abundance, and enzyme activities. Our findings suggest that the balance between soil available N and P effects on the PE, was dependent on rhizosphere microbial community composition. Furthermore, these findings highlight the roles of the interaction between plants and their symbiotic microbial communities in affecting soil priming and improve our understanding of the potential microbial pathways underlying soil PEs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2160-2168
Number of pages9
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
Early online dateSept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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