Haynes, K. M., Preston, M. D., McLaughlin, J. W., Webster, K. and Basiliko, N. 2015. Dissimilar bacterial and fungal decomposer communities across rich to poor fen peatlands exhibit functional redundancy. Can. J. Soil Sci. 95: 219-230. Climatic and environmental changes can lead to shifts in the dominant vegetation communities present in northern peatland ecosystems, including from Sphagnum- to vascular-dominated systems. Such shifts in vegetation result in changes to the chemical quality of carbon substrates for soil microbial decomposers, with leaves and roots deposited in the peat surface and subsurface that potentially decompose faster. This study characterized the bacterial and fungal communities present along a nutrient gradient ranging from rich to poor fen peatlands and assessed the metabolic potential of these communities to mineralize a variety of organic matter substrates of varying chemical complexity using substrate-induced respiration (SIR) assays. Distinct microbial communities existed between rich, intermediate and poor fens, but SIR in each of the three sites exhibited the same pattern of carbon mineralization, providing support for the concept of functional redundancy, at least under standardized in vitro conditions. Preferential mineralization of simple organic substrates in the rich fen and complex compounds in the poor fen was not observed. Similarly, no preference was given to “native” organic matter extracts derived from each fen, with microbial communities opting for the most bioavailable substrate. This study suggests that soil bacteria and fungi might be able to respond relatively rapidly to shifts in vegetation communities and subsequent changes in the quality of carbon substrate additions to peatlands associated with environmental and climatic change.
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Vol. 95 • No. 3