Exploring soil microbial communities and soil organic matter: Variability and interactions in arable soils under minimum tillage practice

U. Bausenwein, A. Gattinger, U. Langer, A. Embacher, H. P. Hartmann, M. Sommer, J. C. Munch, M. Schloter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


This study describes an integrated approach (1) to monitor the quantity and quality of water extractable organic matter (WEOM) and size, structure and function of microbial communities in space (depth) and time, and (2) to explore the relationships among the measured properties. The study site was an arable field in Southern Germany under integrated farming management including reduced tillage. Samples of this Eutric Cambisol soil were taken in July 2001, October 2001, April 2002 and July 2002 and separated into three depths according to the soil profile (0-10 cm, 10-28 cm and 28-40 cm). For each sample, the quantity and quality (humification index, HIX) of water extractable organic matter (WEOM) were measured concomitantly with soil enzyme activities (alkaline phosphatase, β-glucosidase, protease) and microbial community size (Cmic). Furthermore, microbial community structure was characterised based on the fingerprints of nucleic acids (DNA) as well as phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA). We observed strong influences of sampling date and depth on the measured parameters, with depth accounting for more of the observed variability than date. Increasing depth resulted in decreases in all parameters, while seasonal effects differed among variants. Principal component (PC) analysis revealed that both DNA and PLFA fingerprints differentiated among microbial communities from different depths, and to a smaller extent, sampling dates. The majority of the 10 PLFAs contributing most to PC 1 were specific for anaerobes. Enzyme activities were strongly related to Cmic, which was depending on water extractable organic carbon and nitrogen (WEOC and WEON) but not to HIX. HIX and WEOM interact with the microbial community, illustrated by (1) the correlation with the number of PLFA peaks (community richness), and (2) the correlations with community PC analysis scores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Enzymatic activities
  • Microbial community structure
  • Organic carbon
  • Tillage


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