Climate warming could increase rates of soil organic matter turnover and nutrient mineralization, particularly in northern high-latitude ecosystems. However, the effects of increasing nutrient availability on microbial processes in these ecosystems are poorly understood. To determine how soil microbes respond to nutrient enrichment, we measured microbial biomass, extracellular enzyme activities, soil respiration, and the community composition of active fungi in nitrogen (N) fertilized soils of a boreal forest in central Alaska. We predicted that N addition would suppress fungal activity relative to bacteria, but stimulate carbon (C)-degrading enzyme activities and soil respiration. Instead, we found no evidence for a suppression of fungal activity, although fungal sporocarp production declined significantly, and the relative abundance of two fungal taxa changed dramatically with N fertilization. Microbial biomass as measured by chloroform fumigation did not respond to fertilization, nor did the ratio of fungi : bacteria as measured by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. However, microbial biomass C : N ratios narrowed significantly from 16.0 ± 1.4 to 5.2 ± 0.3 with fertilization. N fertilization significantly increased the activity of a cellulose-degrading enzyme and suppressed the activities of protein- and chitin-degrading enzymes but had no effect on soil respiration rates or 14C signatures. These results indicate that N fertilization alters microbial community composition and allocation to extracellular enzyme production without affecting soil respiration. Thus, our results do not provide evidence for strong microbial feedbacks to the boreal C cycle under climate warming or N addition. However, organic N cycling may decline due to a reduction in the activity of enzymes that target nitrogenous compounds.
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