Articles | Volume 12, issue 1
26 Feb 2008
 | 26 Feb 2008

Vegetation composition and soil microbial community structural changes along a wetland hydrological gradient

W. K. Balasooriya, K. Denef, J. Peters, N. E. C. Verhoest, and P. Boeckx

Abstract. Fluctuations in wetland hydrology create an interplay between aerobic and anaerobic conditions, controlling vegetation composition and microbial community structure and activity in wetland soils. In this study, we investigated the vegetation composition and microbial community structural and functional changes along a wetland hydrological gradient. Two different vegetation communities were distinguished along the hydrological gradient; Caricetum gracilis at the wet depression and Arrhenatheretum elatioris at the drier upper site. Microbial community structural changes were studied by a combined in situ 13CO2 pulse labeling and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) based stable isotope probing approach, which identifies the microbial groups actively involved in assimilation of newly photosynthesized, root-derived C in the rhizosphere soils. Gram negative bacterial communities were relatively more abundant in the surface soils of the drier upper site than in the surface soils of the wetter lower site, while the lower site and the deeper soil layers were relatively more inhabited by gram positive bacterial communities. Despite their large abundance, the metabolically active proportion of gram positive bacterial and actinomycetes communities was much smaller at both sites, compared to that of the gram negative bacterial and fungal communities. This suggests much slower assimilation of root-derived C by gram positive and actinomycetes communities than by gram negative bacteria and fungi at both sites. Ground water depth showed a significant effect on the relative abundance of several microbial communities. Relative abundance of gram negative bacteria significantly decreased with increasing ground water depth while the relative abundance of gram positive bacteria and actinomycetes at the surface layer increased with increasing ground water depth.