Termination of belowground C allocation by trees alters soil fungal and bacterial communities in a boreal forest


  • Editor: Philippe Lemanceau

Correspondence: Stephanie A. Yarwood, Department of Microbiology, Oregon State University, Nash Hall 220, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA. Tel.: +1 541 737 1840; fax: +1 541 737 0496; e-mail: stephanie.yarwood@oregonstate.edu


The introduction of photosynthates through plant roots is a major source of carbon (C) for soil microbial biota and shapes the composition of fungal and bacterial communities in the rhizosphere. Although the importance of this process, especially to ectomycorrhizal fungi, has been known for some time, the extent to which plant belowground C allocation controls the composition of the wider soil community is not understood. A tree-girdling experiment enabled studies of the relationship between plant C allocation and microbial community composition. Girdling involves cutting the phloem of trees to prevent photosynthates from entering the soil. Four years after girdling, fungal and bacterial communities were characterized using DNA-based profiles and cloning and sequencing. Data showed that girdling significantly altered fungal and bacterial communities compared with the control. The ratio of ectomycorrhizal to saprobic fungal sequences significantly decreased in girdled treatments, and this decline was found to correlate with the fungal phospholipid fatty acid biomarker 18:2ω6,9. Bacterial communities also varied in the abundance of the two dominant phyla Acidobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria. Concomitant changes in fungal and bacterial communities suggest linkages between these two groups and point toward plant belowground C allocation as a key determinant of microbial community composition.