Date of this Version
PLoS ONE 8(6): e67884
Anthropogenic changes are altering the environmental conditions and the biota of ecosystems worldwide. In many temperate grasslands, such as North American tallgrass prairie, these changes include alteration in historically important disturbance regimes (e.g., frequency of fires) and enhanced availability of potentially limiting nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Such anthropogenically-driven changes in the environment are known to elicit substantial changes in plant and consumer communities aboveground, but much less is known about their effects on soil microbial communities. Due to the high diversity of soil microbes and methodological challenges associated with assessing microbial community composition, relatively few studies have addressed specific taxonomic changes underlying microbial community-level responses to different fire regimes or nutrient amendments in tallgrass prairie. We used deep sequencing of the V3 region of the 16S rRNA gene to explore the effects of contrasting fire regimes and nutrient enrichment on soil bacterial communities in a long-term (20 yrs) experiment in native tallgrass prairie in the eastern Central Plains. We focused on responses to nutrient amendments coupled with two extreme fire regimes (annual prescribed spring burning and complete fire exclusion). The dominant bacterial phyla identified were Proteobacteria, Verrucomicrobia, Bacteriodetes, Acidobacteria, Firmicutes, and Actinobacteria and made up 80% of all taxa quantified. Chronic nitrogen enrichment significantly impacted bacterial community diversity and community structure varied according to nitrogen treatment, but not phosphorus enrichment or fire regime. We also found significant responses of individual bacterial groups including Nitrospira and Gammaproteo-bacteria to long-term nitrogen enrichment. Our results show that soil nitrogen enrichment can significantly alter bacterial community diversity, structure, and individual taxa abundance, which have important implications for both managed and natural grassland ecosystems.