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Differences in fungal and bacterial physiology alter soil carbon and nitrogen cycling: insights from meta-analysis and theoretical models


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Since fungi and bacteria are the dominant decomposers in soil, their distinct physiologies are likely to differentially influence rates of ecosystem carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling. We used meta-analysis and an enzyme-driven biogeochemical model to explore the drivers and biogeochemical consequences of changes in the fungal-to-bacterial ratio (F : B). In our meta-analysis data set, F : B increased with soil C : N ratio (R2 = 0.224, < 0.001), a relationship predicted by our model. We found that differences in biomass turnover rates influenced F : B under conditions of C limitation, while differences in biomass stoichiometry set the upper bounds on F : B once a nutrient limitation threshold was reached. Ecological interactions between the two groups shifted along a gradient of resource stoichiometry. At intermediate substrate C : N, fungal N mineralisation fuelled bacterial growth, increasing total microbial biomass and decreasing net N mineralisation. Therefore, we conclude that differences in bacterial and fungal physiology may have large consequences for ecosystem-scale C and N cycling.

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