Soil property and management effects on grassland microbial communities across a latitudinal gradient in Germany

Nadine Herold, Ingo Schöning, Jessica Gutknecht, Fabian Alt, Steffen Boch, Jörg Müller, Yvonne Oelmann, Stephanie A. Socher, Wolfgang Wilcke, Tesfaye Wubet, Marion Schrumpf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


There is much interest in the identification of the main drivers controlling changes in the microbial community that may be related to sustainable land use. We examined the influence of soil properties and land-use intensity (N fertilization, mowing, grazing) on total phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) biomass, microbial community composition (PLFA profiles) and activities of enzymes involved in the C, N, and P cycle. These relationships were examined in the topsoil of grasslands from three German regions (Schorfheide-Chorin (SCH), Hainich-Dün (HAI), Schwäbische Alb (ALB)) with different parent material. Differences in soil properties explained 60% of variation in PLFA data and 81% of variation in enzyme activities across regions and land-use intensities. Degraded peat soils in the lowland areas of the SCH with high organic carbon (OC) concentrations and sand content contained lower PLFA biomass, lower concentrations of bacterial, fungal, and arbuscular mycorrhizal PLFAs, but greater enzyme activities, and specific enzyme activities (per unit microbial biomass) than mineral soils in the upland areas of the HAI and ALB, which are finer textured, drier, and have smaller OC concentrations. After extraction of variation that originated from large-scale differences among regions and differences in land-use intensities between plots, soil properties still explained a significant amount of variation in PLFA data (34%) and enzyme activities (60%). Total PLFA biomass and all enzyme activities were mainly related to OC concentration, while relative abundance of fungi and fungal to bacterial ratio were mainly related to soil moisture. Land-use intensity (LUI) significantly decreased the soil C:N ratio. There was no direct effect of LUI on total PLFA biomass, microbial community composition, N and P cycling enzyme activities independent of study region and soil properties. In contrast, the activities and specific activities of enzymes involved in the C cycle increased significantly with LUI independent of study region and soil properties, which can have impact on soil organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling. Our findings demonstrate that microbial biomass and community composition as well as enzyme activities are more controlled by soil properties than by grassland management at the regional scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-50
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
StatePublished - Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We like to thank Theresa Klötzing for technical assistance. We also like to thank the managers of the three Exploratories Swen Renner, Sonja Gockel, Andreas Hemp and Martin Gorke and Simone Pfeiffer for their work in maintaining the plot and project infrastructure, and Markus Fischer, the late Elisabeth Kalko, Eduard Linsenmair, Dominik Hessenmöller, Jens Nieschulze, Daniel Prati, Ingo Schöning, François Buscot, Ernst-Detlef Schulze and Wolfgang W. Weisser for their role in setting up the Biodiversity Exploratories project. The work has been funded by the DFG Priority Program 1374 “Infrastructure-Biodiversity-Exploratories” (SCHR 1181/1). Field work permits were issued by the responsible state environmental offices of Brandenburg, Thüringen and Baden-Württemberg (according to § 72 BbgNatSchG).


  • Degraded peat soils
  • Land-use intensity
  • Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA)
  • Specific enzyme activities
  • Temperate grasslands


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