Environmental harshness mediates the relationship between aboveground and belowground communities in Antarctica
Linkages between aboveground and belowground communities are a key but globally under-researched component of responses to environmental change. Given the logistical complications to studying these relationships, much of our knowledge derives from laboratory experiments and localized field studies which have so far yielded inconsistent results. Because environmental factors may alter relationships between above- and belowground communities, there is a need for broad-scale field studies testing these interactions. The Antarctic Peninsula provides an ideal test setting, given the relatively simple communities both above- and belowground. The Peninsula is also experiencing rapid environmental changes, including alterations in species diversity and distribution both above- and belowground. Thus, an improved understanding of the broad-scale consequences of altered environments and vegetation communities for the soil microbiome is of high priority. To determine the nature and strength of the relationship between in situ plant and soil communities across a broad spatial scale and range of environmental conditions, we sampled soil communities at 9 locations (spanning 60–72°S along the Scotia Arc and Antarctic Peninsula) beneath the major aboveground habitats (moss, grass, lichen, algae and bare soil). We measured a comprehensive suite of soil physicochemical properties, microbial (bacterial and fungal) diversity and composition, and invertebrate abundance and community composition to determine the relationships between plant and soil communities. Our results suggest that, with increased environmental severity, plant cover types become more important for influencing the physicochemical soil environment, and therefore the soil microbial communities. Although we found site-specific relationships, broad-scale patterns reveal significant differences among bare soils and vegetated soils, particularly soils beneath grass and moss. This suggests that expansion of vegetation communities under current climate warming projections will be accompanied by shifts in the soil microbiome, with important implications for the ecosystem functioning with which they are associated.
Authors: Ball, Becky A., Convey, Peter ORCID record for Peter Convey, Feeser, Kelli L., Nielsen, Uffe N., Van Horn, David