Impact of land-use change and soil organic carbon quality on microbial diversity in soils across Europe

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Land-use and their change have dramatic consequences for above-ground biodiversity, but their impact on soil microbial communities is poorly understood. In this study, soils from 19 European sites representing conversion of croplands to grasslands or forests and of grasslands to croplands or forests were characterized for microbial abundance and bacterial diversity. The abundance of Bacteria and Fungi but not Archaea responded to land-use change. Site was the major determinant of the soil bacterial community structure, explaining 32% of the variation in 16S rRNA gene diversity. While the quantity of soil organic carbon (SOC) only explained 5% of the variation, SOC when differentiated by its quality could explain 22%. This was similar to the impact of soil pH (21%) and higher than that of land-use type (15%). Croplands had the highest bacterial diversity. Converting croplands to grassland caused an increase of Verrucomicrobia; croplands to forest increased Rhizobiales but decreased Bacteroidetes and Nitrospirae; and grasslands to cropland increased Gemmatimonadetes but decreased Verrucomicrobia and Planctomycetes. Network analysis identified associations between particular SOC fractions and specific bacterial taxa. We conclude that land-use-related effects on soil microorganisms can be consistently observed across a continental scale.

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