Nitrogen additions and microbial biomass: a meta-analysis of ecosystem studies




Nitrogen (N) enrichment is an element of global change that could influence the growth and abundance of many organisms. In this meta-analysis, I synthesized responses of microbial biomass to N additions in 82 published field studies. I hypothesized that the biomass of fungi, bacteria or the microbial community as a whole would be altered under N additions. I also predicted that changes in biomass would parallel changes in soil CO2 emissions. Microbial biomass declined 15% on average under N fertilization, but fungi and bacteria were not significantly altered in studies that examined each group separately. Moreover, declines in abundance of microbes and fungi were more evident in studies of longer durations and with higher total amounts of N added. In addition, responses of microbial biomass to N fertilization were significantly correlated with responses of soil CO2 emissions. There were no significant effects of biomes, fertilizer types, ambient N deposition rates or methods of measuring biomass. Altogether, these results suggest that N enrichment could reduce microbial biomass in many ecosystems, with corresponding declines in soil CO2 emissions.