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Microb Ecol. 2004 Jul;48(1):29-40. Epub 2004 Apr 19.

Characterization of humus microbial communities in adjacent forest types that differ in nitrogen availability.

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Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia, 2424 Main Mall, V6T 1Z4 Vancouver, BC, Canada.


To address the link between soil microbial community composition and soil processes, we investigated the microbial communities in forest floors of two forest types that differ substantially in nitrogen availability. Cedar-hemlock (CH) and hemlock-amabilis fir (HA) forests are both common on northern Vancouver Island, B.C., occurring adjacently across the landscape. CH forest floors have low nitrogen availability and HA high nitrogen availability. Total microbial biomass was assessed using chloroform fumigation-extraction and community composition was assessed using several cultivation-independent approaches: denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of the bacterial communities, ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (RISA) of the bacterial and fungal communities, and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiles of the whole microbial community. We did not detect differences in the bacterial communities of each forest type using DGGE and RISA, but differences in the fungal communities were detected using RISA. PLFA analysis detected subtle differences in overall composition of the microbial community between the forest types, as well as in particular groups of organisms. Fungal PLFAs were more abundant in the nitrogen-poor CH forests. Bacteria were proportionally more abundant in HA forests than CH in the lower humus layer, and Gram-positive bacteria were proportionally more abundant in HA forests irrespective of layer. Bacterial and fungal communities were distinct in the F, upper humus, and lower humus layers of the forest floor and total biomass decreased in deeper layers. These results indicate that there are distinct patterns in forest floor microbial community composition at the landscape scale, which may be important for understanding nutrient availability to forest vegetation.

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