Site-Specific Microbial Decomposer Communities Do Not Imply Faster Decomposition: Results from a Litter Transplantation Experiment
Matthews Nicholass KJ
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Microbes drive leaf litter decomposition, and their communities are adapted to the local vegetation providing that litter. However, whether these local microbial communities confer a significant home-field advantage in litter decomposition remains unclear, with contrasting results being published. Here, we focus on a litter transplantation experiment from oak forests (home site) to two away sites without oak in South Tyrol (Italy). We aimed to produce an in-depth analysis of the fungal and bacterial decomposer communities using Illumina sequencing and qPCR, to understand whether local adaptation occurs and whether this was associated with litter mass loss dynamics. Temporal shifts in the decomposer community occurred, reflecting changes in litter chemistry over time. Fungal community composition was site dependent, while bacterial composition did not differ across sites. Total litter mass loss and rates of litter decomposition did not change across sites. Litter quality influenced the microbial community through the availability of different carbon sources. Additively, our results do not support the hypothesis that locally adapted microbial decomposers lead to a greater or faster mass loss. It is likely that high functional redundancy within decomposer communities regulated the decomposition, and thus greater future research attention should be given to trophic guilds rather than taxonomic composition.