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Ecology. 2011 Apr;92(4):892-902.

Substrate supply, fine roots, and temperature control proteolytic enzyme activity in temperate forest soils.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.


Temperature and substrate availability constrain the activity of the extracellular enzymes that decompose and release nutrients from soil organic matter (SOM). Proteolytic enzymes are the primary class of enzymes involved in the depolymerization of nitrogen (N) from proteinaceous components of SOM, and their activity affects the rate of N cycling in forest soils. The objectives of this study were to determine whether and how temperature and substrate availability affect the activity of proteolytic enzymes in temperate forest soils, and whether the activity of proteolytic enzymes and other enzymes involved in the acquisition of N (i.e., chitinolytic and ligninolytic enzymes) differs between trees species that form associations with either ectomycorrhizal or arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Temperature limitation of proteolytic enzyme activity was observed only early in the growing season when soil temperatures in the field were near 4 degrees C. Substrate limitation to proteolytic activity persisted well into the growing season. Ligninolytic enzyme activity was higher in soils dominated by ectomycorrhizal associated tree species. In contrast, the activity of proteolytic and chitinolytic enzymes did not differ, but there were differences between mycorrhizal association in the control of roots on enzyme activity. Roots of ectomycorrhizal species but not those of arbuscular mycorrhizal species exerted significant control over proteolytic, chitinolytic, and ligninolytic enzyme activity; the absence of ectomycorrhizal fine roots reduced the activity of all three enzymes. These results suggest that climate warming in the absence of increases in substrate availability may have a modest effect on soil-N cycling, and that global changes that alter belowground carbon allocation by trees are likely to have a larger effect on nitrogen cycling in stands dominated by ectomycorrhizal fungi.

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