Microbial community structure and global trace gases


Josh Schimel, tel +1/ 805 8937688,
fax +1/ 805 8934724, e-mail schimel@lifesci.lscf.ucsb.edu


Global change can affect soil processes by either altering the functioning of existing organisms or by restructuring the community, modifying the fundamental physiologies that drive biogeochemical processes. Thus, not only might process rates change, but the controls over them might also change. Moreover, previously insignificant processes could become important. These possibilities raise the question ‘Will changes in climate and land use restructure microbial communities in a way that will alter trace gas fluxes from an ecosystem?’ Process studies indicate that microbial community structure can influence trace gas dynamics at a large scale. For example, soil respiration and CH4 production both show ranges of temperature response among ecosystems, indicating differences in the microbial communities responsible. There are three patterns of NH4+ inhibition of CH4 oxidation at the ecosystem scale: no inhibition, immediate inhibition, and delayed inhibition; these are associated with different CH4 oxidizer communities. Thus, it is possible that changes in climate, land-use, and disturbance regimes could alter microbial communities in ways that would substantially alter trace gas fluxes; we discuss the data supporting this conclusion. We also discuss approaches to developing research linking microbial community structure and activity to the structure and functioning of the whole ecosystem. Modern techniques allow us to identify active organisms even if they have not been cultivated; in combination with traditional experimental approaches we should be able to identify the linkages between these active populations and the processes they carry out at the ecosystem level. Finally, we describe scenarios of how global change could alter trace gas fluxes by altering microbial communities and how understanding the microbial community dynamics could improve our ability to predict future trace gas fluxes.