Tropical forest soil microbial communities couple iron and carbon biogeochemistry

Authors

  • Eric A. Dubinsky,

    1. Ecosystem Sciences Division, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720 USA
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    •  Present address: Ecology Department, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1 Cyclotron Road, MS 70A-3317, Berkeley, California 94720 USA. E-mail: eric.dubinsky@gmail.com

  • Whendee L. Silver,

    1. Ecosystem Sciences Division, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720 USA
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  • Mary K. Firestone

    1. Ecosystem Sciences Division, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720 USA
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  • Corresponding Editor: R. A. Dahlgren.

Abstract

We report that iron-reducing bacteria are primary mediators of anaerobic carbon oxidation in upland tropical soils spanning a rainfall gradient (3500–5000 mm/yr) in northeast Puerto Rico. The abundant rainfall and high net primary productivity of these tropical forests provide optimal soil habitat for iron-reducing and iron-oxidizing bacteria. Spatially and temporally dynamic redox conditions make iron-transforming microbial communities central to the belowground carbon cycle in these wet tropical forests. The exceedingly high abundance of iron-reducing bacteria (up to 1.2 × 109 cells per gram soil) indicated that they possess extensive metabolic capacity to catalyze the reduction of iron minerals. In soils from the higher rainfall sites, measured rates of ferric iron reduction could account for up to 44% of organic carbon oxidation. Iron reducers appeared to compete with methanogens when labile carbon availability was limited. We found large numbers of bacteria that oxidize reduced iron at sites with high rates of iron reduction and large numbers of iron reducers. The coexistence of large populations of iron-reducing and iron-oxidizing bacteria is evidence for rapid iron cycling between its reduced and oxidized states and suggests that mutualistic interactions among these bacteria ultimately fuel organic carbon oxidation and inhibit CH4 production in these upland tropical forests.

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