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Bacterial and archaeal taxa are reliable indicators of soil restoration across distributed calcareous grasslands

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

E-pub ahead of print
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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>25/04/2020
<mark>Journal</mark>European Journal of Soil Science
Publication StatusE-pub ahead of print
Early online date25/04/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Land use intensification can reduce soil carbon stocks and changes microbial community biodiversity and functionality. However, there is a lack of consensus on whether management consistently affects microbial biodiversity across geographic scales, and how this relates to altered soil function. From a regulatory and monitoring perspective, there is a need to identify functionally relevant indicators of land use in order to evaluate the progress of soil restoration approaches. We performed a landscape scale survey of unimproved calcareous grasslands paired with local arable contrasts, and assessed the consistency of responses in a variety of soil, biotic and functional measures. In addition, adjacent grasslands undergoing restoration were assessed to identify soil microbial indicators of recovery. Organic matter content was consistently larger in grasslands than in arable fields, and increased with time in the restoring sites. Molecular comparisons of grassland versus arable soils revealed numerous bacterial, archaeal and fungal indicators, with more representatives of Ca. Xiphinematobacter, DA101, Bradyrhizobium, Rhodoplanes, Mycobacteria and Mortierella in old grassland soils, while Nitrososphaera, Sporosarcina and Alternaria infectoria were more abundant in arable soils. Extracellular enzymatic responses were more variable with none of the eight investigated enzymes being consistent indicators of grassland or arable soils. Correlation analyses, incorporating the molecular and enzymatic responses across all surveyed soils, revealed that molecular indicators were more strongly correlated with soil organic matter increases with restoration of arable soils. Our results highlight that microbial taxa are among the most sensitive indicators of soil restoration, and we identify consistent responses of specific taxa to management across geographic scales. This discovery will be important for both the instigation and monitoring of the soil restoration.