Image_9_Taxonomic and Functional Responses of Soil Microbial Communities to Annual Removal of Aboveground Plant Biomass.TIF

Clipping, removal of aboveground plant biomass, is an important issue in grassland ecology. However, few studies have focused on the effect of clipping on belowground microbial communities. Using integrated metagenomic technologies, we examined the taxonomic and functional responses of soil microbial communities to annual clipping (2010–2014) in a grassland ecosystem of the Great Plains of North America. Our results indicated that clipping significantly (P < 0.05) increased root and microbial respiration rates. Annual temporal variation within the microbial communities was much greater than the significant changes introduced by clipping, but cumulative effects of clipping were still observed in the long-term scale. The abundances of some bacterial and fungal lineages including Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes were significantly (P < 0.05) changed by clipping. Clipping significantly (P < 0.05) increased the abundances of labile carbon (C) degrading genes. More importantly, the abundances of recalcitrant C degrading genes were consistently and significantly (P < 0.05) increased by clipping in the last 2 years, which could accelerate recalcitrant C degradation and weaken long-term soil carbon stability. Furthermore, genes involved in nutrient-cycling processes including nitrogen cycling and phosphorus utilization were also significantly increased by clipping. The shifts of microbial communities were significantly correlated with soil respiration and plant productivity. Intriguingly, clipping effects on microbial function may be highly regulated by precipitation at the interannual scale. Altogether, our results illustrated the potential of soil microbial communities for increased soil organic matter decomposition under clipping land-use practices.