Differential nutrient limitation of soil microbial biomass and metabolic quotients (qCO2): is there a biological stoichiometry of soil microbes?

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2013

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Variation in microbial metabolism poses one of the greatest current uncertainties in models of global carbon cycling, and is particularly poorly understood in soils. Biological Stoichiometry theory describes biochemical mechanisms linking metabolic rates with variation in the elemental composition of cells and organisms, and has been widely observed in animals, plants, and plankton. However, this theory has not been widely tested in microbes, which are considered to have fixed ratios of major elements in soils. METHODOLOGY/ PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: To determine whether Biological Stoichiometry underlies patterns of soil microbial metabolism, we compiled published data on microbial biomass carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) pools in soils spanning the global range of climate, vegetation, and land use types. We compared element ratios in microbial biomass pools to the metabolic quotient qCO2 (respiration per unit biomass), where soil C mineralization was simultaneously measured in controlled incubations. Although microbial C, N, and P stoichiometry appeared to follow somewhat constrained allometric relationships at the global scale, we found significant variation in the C∶N∶P ratios of soil microbes across land use and habitat types, and size-dependent scaling of microbial C∶N and C∶P (but not N∶P) ratios. Microbial stoichiometry and metabolic quotients were also weakly correlated as suggested by Biological Stoichiometry theory. Importantly, we found that while soil microbial biomass appeared constrained by soil N availability, microbial metabolic rates (qCO2) were most strongly associated with inorganic P availability. CONCLUSIONS/ SIGNIFICANCE: Our findings appear consistent with the model of cellular metabolism described by Biological Stoichiometry theory, where biomass is limited by N needed to build proteins, but rates of protein synthesis are limited by the high P demands of ribosomes. Incorporation of these physiological processes may improve models of carbon cycling and understanding of the effects of nutrient availability on soil C turnover across terrestrial and wetland habitats.

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10.1371/journal.pone.0057127

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Hartman, Wyatt H, and Curtis J Richardson (2013). Differential nutrient limitation of soil microbial biomass and metabolic quotients (qCO2): is there a biological stoichiometry of soil microbes?. PLoS One, 8(3). p. e57127. 10.1371/journal.pone.0057127 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/15711.

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Richardson

Curtis J. Richardson

Research Professor of Resource Ecology in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Curtis J. Richardson is Professor of Resource Ecology and founding Director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.

His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems.

Recent research activities: 1) wetland restoration of plant communities and its effects on regional water quality and nutrient biogeochemical cycles, 2) the development of ecosystem metrics as indices of wetland restoration success, 3) the effects of nanomaterial on wetland and stream ecosystem processes, 4) the development of ecological thresholds along environmental gradients, 5) wetland development trends and restoration in coastal southeastern United States, 6) the development of an outdoor wetland and stream research and teaching laboratory on Duke Forest, 7) differential nutrient limitation (DNL) as a mechanism to overcome N or P limitations across trophic levels in wetland ecosystems, and 8) carbon sequestration in coastal North Carolina pocosins.

Richardson oversees the main analytical lab in NSOE, which is open to students and faculty. Dr. Richardson has been listed in Who's Who in Science™ annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. He has served on many editorial review committees for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he is a past Chair of the Nicholas School Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Dr. Richardson is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.


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