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Microbial activity and community composition in saline and non-saline soils exposed to multiple drying and rewetting events

Plant and Soil
Publication Date
  • Drying And Rewetting
  • Phospholipid Fatty Acid Analysis
  • Respiration
  • Salinity


The effects of drying and rewetting (DRW) have been studied extensively in non-saline soils, but little is known about the impact of DRW in saline soils. An incubation experiment was conducted to determine the impact of 1-3 drying and re-wetting events on soil microbial activity and community composition at different levels of electrical conductivity in the saturated soil extract (ECe) (ECe 0.7, 9.3, 17.6 dS m(-1)). A non-saline sandy loam was amended with NaCl to achieve the three EC levels 21 days prior to the first DRW; wheat straw was added 7 days prior to the first DRW. Each DRW event consisted of 1 week drying and 1 week moist (50% of water holding capacity, WHC). After the last DRW, the soils were maintained moist until the end of the incubation period (63 days after addition of the wheat straw). A control was kept moist (50% of WHC) throughout the incubation period. Respiration rates on the day after rewetting were similar after the first and the second DRW, but significantly lower after the third DRW. After the first and second DRW, respiration rates were lower at EC17.6 compared to the lower EC levels, whereas salinity had little effect on respiration rates after the third DRW or at the end of the experiment when respiration rates were low. Compared to the continuously moist treatment, respiration rates were about 50% higher on day 15 (d15) and d29. On d44, respiration rates were about 50% higher at EC9.7 than at the other two EC levels. Cumulative respiration was increased by DRW only in the treatment with one DRW and only at the two lower EC levels. Salinity affected microbial biomass and community composition in the moist soils but not in the DRW treatments. At all EC levels and all sampling dates, the community composition in the continuously moist treatment differed from that in the DRW treatments, but there were no differences among the DRW treatments. Microbes in moderately saline soils may be able to utilise substrates released after multiple DRW events better than microbes in non-saline soil. However, at high EC (EC17.6), the low osmotic potential reduced microbial activity to such an extent that the microbes were not able to utilise substrate released after rewetting of dry soil.

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