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Microb Ecol. 2015 May;69(4):798-812. doi: 10.1007/s00248-015-0584-9. Epub 2015 Mar 1.

Habitat Fragmentation can Modulate Drought Effects on the Plant-soil-microbial System in Mediterranean Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) Forests.

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Department of Biogeography and Global Change, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN), Spanish Scientific Council (CSIC), Serrano 115bis, 28006, Madrid, Spain,


Ecological transformations derived from habitat fragmentation have led to increased threats to above-ground biodiversity. However, the impacts of forest fragmentation on soils and their microbial communities are not well understood. We examined the effects of contrasting fragment sizes on the structure and functioning of soil microbial communities from holm oak forest patches in two bioclimatically different regions of Spain. We used a microcosm approach to simulate the annual summer drought cycle and first autumn rainfall (rewetting), evaluating the functional response of a plant-soil-microbial system. Forest fragment size had a significant effect on physicochemical characteristics and microbial functioning of soils, although the diversity and structure of microbial communities were not affected. The response of our plant-soil-microbial systems to drought was strongly modulated by the bioclimatic conditions and the fragment size from where the soils were obtained. Decreasing fragment size modulated the effects of drought by improving local environmental conditions with higher water and nutrient availability. However, this modulation was stronger for plant-soil-microbial systems built with soils from the northern region (colder and wetter) than for those built with soils from the southern region (warmer and drier) suggesting that the responsiveness of the soil-plant-microbial system to habitat fragmentation was strongly dependent on both the physicochemical characteristics of soils and the historical adaptation of soil microbial communities to specific bioclimatic conditions. This interaction challenges our understanding of future global change scenarios in Mediterranean ecosystems involving drier conditions and increased frequency of forest fragmentation.

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