Growth of saprotrophic fungi and bacteria in soil


  • Editor: Ian Head

Johannes Rousk, Environment Centre Wales, Bangor University, 2nd floor, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK. Tel.: +44 756 390 68 29; fax: +44 1248 354997; e-mail:


Bacterial and fungal growth rate measurements are sensitive variables to detect changes in environmental conditions. However, while considerable progress has been made in methods to assess the species composition and biomass of fungi and bacteria, information about growth rates remains surprisingly rudimentary. We review the recent history of approaches to assess bacterial and fungal growth rates, leading up to current methods, especially focusing on leucine/thymidine incorporation to estimate bacterial growth and acetate incorporation into ergosterol to estimate fungal growth. We present the underlying assumptions for these methods, compare estimates of turnover times for fungi and bacteria based on them, and discuss issues, including for example elusive conversion factors. We review what the application of fungal and bacterial growth rate methods has revealed regarding the influence of the environmental factors of temperature, moisture (including drying/rewetting), pH, as well as the influence of substrate additions, the presence of plants and toxins. We highlight experiments exploring the competitive and facilitative interaction between bacteria and fungi enabled using growth rate methods. Finally, we predict that growth methods will be an important complement to molecular approaches to elucidate fungal and bacterial ecology, and we identify methodological concerns and how they should be addressed.