Land Use Modification Causes Slow, but Predictable, Change in Soil Microbial Community Composition and Functional Potential
BACKGROUND: Bacterial communities are critical to ecosystem functioning and sensitive to their surrounding physiochemical environment. However, the impact of land use change on microbial communities remains understudied. We used 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and shotgun metagenomics to assess soil microbial communities' taxonomic and functional responses to land use change. We compared data from long-term grassland, exotic forest and horticulture reference sites to data from sites that transitioned from (i) Grassland to exotic forest or horticulture and from (ii) Exotic forest to grassland.
RESULTS: Community taxonomic and functional profiles of the transitional sites significantly differed from those within reference sites representing both their historic and current land uses (P < 0.001). The bacterial communities in sites that transitioned more recently were compositionally more similar to those representing their historic land uses. In contrast, the composition of communities from sites exposed to older conversion events had shifted towards the compositions at reference sites representing their current land use.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study indicates that microbial communities respond in a somewhat predictable way after a land use conversion event by shifting from communities reflecting their former land use towards those reflecting their current land use. Our findings help us to better understand the legacy effects of land use change on soil microbial communities and implications for their role in soil health and ecosystem functioning. Understanding the responsiveness of microbial communities to environmental disturbances will aid us in incorporating biotic variables into soil health monitoring techniques in the future.