Soil nitrogen transformation responses to seasonal precipitation changes are regulated by changes in functional microbial abundance in a subtropical forest
Abstract. The frequency of dry-season droughts and wet-season storms has been predicted to increase in subtropical areas in the coming decades. Since subtropical forest soils are significant sources of N2O and NO3−, it is important to understand the features and determinants of N transformation responses to the predicted precipitation changes. A precipitation manipulation field experiment was conducted in a subtropical forest to reduce dry-season precipitation and increase wet-season precipitation, with annual precipitation unchanged. Net N mineralization, net nitrification, N2O emission, nitrifying (bacterial and archaeal amoA) and denitrifying (nirK, nirS and nosZ) gene abundance, microbial biomass carbon (MBC), extractable organic carbon (EOC), NO3−, NH4+ and soil water content (SWC) were monitored to characterize and explain soil N transformation responses. Dry-season precipitation reduction decreased net nitrification and N mineralization rates by 13–20 %, while wet-season precipitation addition increased both rates by 50 %. More than 20 % of the total variation of net nitrification and N mineralization could be explained by microbial abundance and SWC. Notably, archaeal amoA abundance showed the strongest correlation with net N transformation rates (r ≥ 0.35), suggesting the critical role of archaeal amoA abundance in determining N transformations. Increased net nitrification in the wet season, together with large precipitation events, caused substantial NO3− losses via leaching. However, N2O emission decreased moderately in both dry and wet seasons due to changes in nosZ gene abundance, MBC, net nitrification and SWC (decreased by 10–21 %). We conclude that reducing dry-season precipitation and increasing wet-season precipitation affect soil N transformations through altering functional microbial abundance and MBC, which are further affected by changes in EOC and NH4+ availabilities.