Articles | Volume 8, issue 11
Research article
11 Nov 2011
Research article |  | 11 Nov 2011

Microbial food web dynamics along a soil chronosequence of a glacier forefield

J. Esperschütz, A. Pérez-de-Mora, K. Schreiner, G. Welzl, F. Buegger, J. Zeyer, F. Hagedorn, J. C. Munch, and M. Schloter

Abstract. Microbial food webs are critical for efficient nutrient turnover providing the basis for functional and stable ecosystems. However, the successional development of such microbial food webs and their role in "young" ecosystems is unclear. Due to a continuous glacier retreat since the middle of the 19th century, glacier forefields have expanded offering an excellent opportunity to study food web dynamics in soils at different developmental stages. In the present study, litter degradation and the corresponding C fluxes into microbial communities were investigated along the forefield of the Damma glacier (Switzerland). 13C-enriched litter of the pioneering plant Leucanthemopsis alpina (L.) Heywood was incorporated into the soil at sites that have been free from ice for approximately 10, 60, 100 and more than 700 years. The structure and function of microbial communities were identified by 13C analysis of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) and phospholipid ether lipids (PLEL). Results showed increasing microbial diversity and biomass, and enhanced proliferation of bacterial groups as ecosystem development progressed. Initially, litter decomposition proceeded faster at the more developed sites, but at the end of the experiment loss of litter mass was similar at all sites, once the more easily-degradable litter fraction was processed. As a result incorporation of 13C into microbial biomass was more evident during the first weeks of litter decomposition. 13C enrichments of both PLEL and PLFA biomarkers following litter incorporation were observed at all sites, suggesting similar microbial foodwebs at all stages of soil development. Nonetheless, the contribution of bacteria, especially actinomycetes to litter turnover became more pronounced as soil age increased in detriment of archaea, fungi and protozoa, more prominent in recently deglaciated terrain.

Final-revised paper