The microbial community size, structure, and process rates along natural gradients of soil salinity

Kristin M. Rath, Daniel N. Murphy, Johannes Rousk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Over 840 M ha of arable land is affected by salinization, and the area is predicted to increase due to global change. Assessments of the status of the microbial community in saline soils have frequently been based on microbial biomass estimates, which might not accurately reflect microbial process rates in soil. Moreover, assessments of how the relative importance of major decomposer groups bacteria and fungi are affected by salinity remain inconclusive. In this study we set out to assess the soil microbial community size, structure and process rates along two salinity gradients. To distinguish between the direct effects of high salinity and indirect effects resulting from reduced soil organic matter (OM) concentrations in saline soils we also assessed the gradients following plant litter amendments to compensate for differences in OM content between soils and isolate the effect of salinity. The research aims were to (i) investigate the microbial biomass responses to salinity as estimated based on both PLFA concentrations and qPCR measurements and to compare these responses to those of respiration and microbial growth, (ii) compare the responses of bacteria and fungi to increased salinity and (iii) assess the responses of these microbial variables to the alleviation of OM scarcity expected in saline soils. Microbial biomass estimates generally were less negatively affected by salinity than bacterial growth and respiration, and were not correlated to rates of microbial growth or respiration rates. While bacterial growth was strongly inhibited by salinity, fungal growth was similar in soils of all salinities, indicating a higher fungal tolerance to salinity. OM additions increased process rates in saline soils and alleviated some of the negative impact of salinity on respiration and growth. In conclusion, this study demonstrates differential responses of saprotrophic fungi and bacteria to increasing salinity and that bacteria are directly impacted by soil salinity while fungi are responding to the indirect effect by salinity related to reduced plant C input.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107607
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'The microbial community size, structure, and process rates along natural gradients of soil salinity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this