Soil microbial communities are driven by the declining availability of cations and phosphorus during ecosystem retrogression

François P. Teste, Hans Lambers, Esther E. Enowashu, Etienne Laliberté, Sven Marhan, Ellen Kandeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Development of soil microbial communities is driven by local abiotic and biotic conditions, yet our current understanding of their ecology is limited to studies in modified or young and relatively fertile ecosystems. In nutrient-impoverished soils, microbial communities may be predominantly structured by availability of key elements such as phosphorus (P) or nitrogen, regardless of the taxa (bacteria, archaea or fungi). Here, we determined if shifts in bacterial communities and biomass occurred along a long-term soil chronosequence in south-western Australia, and whether such shifts were related to changes in soil nutrient availability along the retrogressive phase of this chronosequence. We quantified shifts in the biomass and abundance of major soil microbial groups using phospholipid fatty acids and quantitative polymerase chain reaction. We found that declining soil P availability limited microbial growth and community structure. Common cations, notably magnesium, showed strong relationships with the abundance of most bacterial and archaeal taxa. In the oldest most severely impoverished soils, the fungal to bacteria ratio was higher than in the young soils, indicating fungi are better adapted to such environments. Finally, archaeal copy numbers decreased more strongly than bacterial copy numbers with increasing nutrient-impoverishment of soils. The study enhances our understanding of the ecology of soil bacteria, archaea, and fungi during ecosystem development and retrogression.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108430
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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