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Keywords:

  • Community composition;
  • diversity;
  • extracellular enzyme;
  • functional group;
  • litter decomposition;
  • microbe;
  • model;
  • spatial structure;
  • trade-off;
  • trait

Abstract

Trait-based models are an emerging tool in ecology with the potential to link community dynamics, environmental responses and ecosystem processes. These models represent complex communities by defining taxa with trait combinations derived from prior distributions that may be constrained by trade-offs. Herein I develop a model that links microbial community composition with physiological and enzymatic traits to predict litter decomposition rates. This approach allows for trade-offs among traits that represent alternative microbial strategies for resource acquisition. The model predicts that optimal strategies depend on the level of enzyme production in the whole community, which determines resource availability and decomposition rates. There is also evidence for facilitation and competition among microbial taxa that co-occur on decomposing litter. These interactions vary with community investment in extracellular enzyme production and the magnitude of trade-offs affecting enzyme biochemical traits. The model accounted for 69% of the variation in decomposition rates of 15 Hawaiian litter types and up to 26% of the variation in enzyme activities. By explicitly representing diversity, trait-based models can predict ecosystem processes based on functional trait distributions in a community. The model developed herein illustrates that traits influencing microbial enzyme production are some of the key controls on litter decomposition rates.