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ISME J. 2015 Nov;9(11):2465-76. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.57. Epub 2015 Apr 24.

Forest harvesting reduces the soil metagenomic potential for biomass decomposition.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Life Sciences Institute, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources Operations, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.


Soil is the key resource that must be managed to ensure sustainable forest productivity. Soil microbial communities mediate numerous essential ecosystem functions, and recent studies show that forest harvesting alters soil community composition. From a long-term soil productivity study site in a temperate coniferous forest in British Columbia, 21 forest soil shotgun metagenomes were generated, totaling 187 Gb. A method to analyze unassembled metagenome reads from the complex community was optimized and validated. The subsequent metagenome analysis revealed that, 12 years after forest harvesting, there were 16% and 8% reductions in relative abundances of biomass decomposition genes in the organic and mineral soil layers, respectively. Organic and mineral soil layers differed markedly in genetic potential for biomass degradation, with the organic layer having greater potential and being more strongly affected by harvesting. Gene families were disproportionately affected, and we identified 41 gene families consistently affected by harvesting, including families involved in lignin, cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin degradation. The results strongly suggest that harvesting profoundly altered below-ground cycling of carbon and other nutrients at this site, with potentially important consequences for forest regeneration. Thus, it is important to determine whether these changes foreshadow long-term changes in forest productivity or resilience and whether these changes are broadly characteristic of harvested forests.

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