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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2016 Dec;92(12). pii: fiw185. Epub 2016 Sep 7.

Small-scale spatial heterogeneity of ecosystem properties, microbial community composition and microbial activities in a temperate mountain forest soil.

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Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology, Institute of Microbiology of the CAS, Vídeňská 1083, 14220 Praha 4, Czech Republic
Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, 370 05 České Budějovice, Czech Republic.
Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology, Institute of Microbiology of the CAS, Vídeňská 1083, 14220 Praha 4, Czech Republic.


Forests are recognised as spatially heterogeneous ecosystems. However, knowledge of the small-scale spatial variation in microbial abundance, community composition and activity is limited. Here, we aimed to describe the heterogeneity of environmental properties, namely vegetation, soil chemical composition, fungal and bacterial abundance and community composition, and enzymatic activity, in the topsoil in a small area (36 m2) of a highly heterogeneous regenerating temperate natural forest, and to explore the relationships among these variables. The results demonstrated a high level of spatial heterogeneity in all properties and revealed differences between litter and soil. Fungal communities had substantially higher beta-diversity than bacterial communities, which were more uniform and less spatially autocorrelated. In litter, fungal communities were affected by vegetation and appeared to be more involved in decomposition. In the soil, chemical composition affected both microbial abundance and the rates of decomposition, whereas the effect of vegetation was small. Importantly, decomposition appeared to be concentrated in hotspots with increased activity of multiple enzymes. Overall, forest topsoil should be considered a spatially heterogeneous environment in which the mean estimates of ecosystem-level processes and microbial community composition may confound the existence of highly specific microenvironments.


beta-diversity; extracellular enzymes; litter; plant–microbe interactions; soil; spatial heterogeneity

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