Molecular analysis of fungal communities and laccase genes in decomposing litter reveals differences among forest types but no impact of nitrogen deposition

Christopher B Blackwood, Mark P Waldrop, Donald R Zak, Robert L Sinsabaugh
Environmental Microbiology 2007, 9 (5): 1306-16
The fungal community of the forest floor was examined as the cause of previously reported increases in soil organic matter due to experimental N deposition in ecosystems producing predominantly high-lignin litter, and the opposite response in ecosystems producing low-lignin litter. The mechanism proposed to explain this phenomenon was that white-rot basidiomycetes are more important in the degradation of high-lignin litter than of low-lignin litter, and that their activity is suppressed by N deposition. We found that forest floor mass in the low-lignin sugar-maple dominated system decreased in October due to experimental N deposition, whereas forest floor mass of high-lignin oak-dominated ecosystems was unaffected by N deposition. Increased relative abundance of basidiomycetes in high-lignin forest floor was confirmed by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and sequencing. Abundance of basidiomycete laccase genes, encoding an enzyme used by white-rot basidiomycetes in the degradation of lignin, was 5-10 times greater in high-lignin forest floor than in low-lignin forest floor. While the differences between the fungal communities in different ecosystems were consistent with the proposed mechanism, no significant effects of N deposition were detected on DGGE profiles, laccase gene abundance, laccase length heterogeneity profiles, or phenol oxidase activity. Our observations indicate that the previously detected accumulation of soil organic matter in the high-lignin system may be driven by effects of N deposition on organisms in the mineral soil, rather than on organisms residing in the forest floor. However, studies of in situ gene expression and temporal and spatial variability within forest floor communities will be necessary to further relate the ecosystem dynamics of organic carbon to microbial communities and atmospheric N deposition.

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