Differences in activity and N demand between bacteria and fungi in a microcosm incubation experiment with selective inhibition

Kooijman, A.M.; Bloem, J.; Dalen, B.R. van; Kalbitz, K.


Bacteria and fungi are important micro-organisms in the soil, but may differ in their impact on net N-mineralization. The hypothesis was tested that fungi are characterized by low microbial activity, but also low immobilization, and bacteria by high activity and high immobilization. A one-month laboratory incubation experiment with selective inhibition of fungi (cycloheximide) or bacteria (streptomycin) was conducted with samples of organic layer and mineral topsoil (0-10. cm) from neutral, bacteria-dominated and acidic, fungi-dominated Luxembourg beech forests. In the control treatment, respiration was higher in neutral than in acidic soil, but net N-mineralization was lower, due to higher immobilization. In the antibiotic treatments, differences in nitrification suggest that selective inhibition indeed occurred; in all soils and horizons, nitrification was especially limited by bactericide. Besides as inhibitor of the target group, antibiotics may also serve as source of C and N for the non-target group. For both bactericide and fungicide, acidic soils showed higher net recovery of C and N from antibiotics than neutral soil, which suggests that uptake or sorption of antibiotics is higher in the latter. Clear differences between neutral and acidic soils arose when the main micro-organisms were stimulated. In bacteria-dominated neutral soil, application of fungicide led to increased microbial respiration. In fungi-dominated acidic soil, however, application of bactericide did not lead to higher respiration, but to increased net N-mineralization per unit respiration, which supports a lower immobilization. Differences between antibiotics were consistent for organic layer and mineral topsoil, with increase in activity with fungicide, and lower immobilization with bactericide. The results provide correlative and experimental evidence that reduced immobilization by fungi compensates for their lower rates of activity with respect to N-availability to the vegetation.