Can microbial functional traits predict the response and resilience of decomposition to global change?

Can microbial functional traits predict the response and resilience of decomposition to global change?

We aim to link functional traits that influence carbon (C) cycling with individual microbial taxa in order to build predictive models of ecosystem responses to global change. We will make this connection by applying novel molecular and nanotechnological tools to examine the distribution of extracellular enzyme genes and functions across taxonomic groups of microbes. Using the trait distributions among taxa, we will model the response of C decomposition rates to changes in water and nitrogen (N) availability, as well as plant species composition.

A trait-based framework for predicting the function of microbial communities under environmental change. Genes controlling enzymatic function and environmental responses are linked to taxonomic markers in the genomes of individual cells. In some cases, a particular trait is linked to a taxonomic group (Enz1 and Enz2), whereas others may be widely distributed among taxa (Enz3). Thus, changes in taxon abundance due to environmental drivers can affect the abundance distribution of functional genes in the community. Extracellular enzyme activities represent the expressed traits of the microbial community. Different enzymes control the decay rates (k1, k2, k3) of organic carbon compounds in litter.

A trait-based framework for predicting the function of microbial communities under environmental change. Genes controlling enzymatic function and environmental responses are linked to taxonomic markers in the genomes of individual cells. In some cases, a particular trait is linked to a taxonomic group (Enz1 and Enz2), whereas others may be widely distributed among taxa (Enz3). Thus, changes in taxon abundance due to environmental drivers can affect the abundance distribution of functional genes in the community. Extracellular enzyme activities represent the expressed traits of the microbial community. Different enzymes control the decay rates (k1, k2, k3) of organic carbon compounds in litter.

The models will be trait-based and represent microbial taxa as functional groups or stochastic assemblages. Model predictions will be tested with reciprocal transplants of decomposing plant litter and microbial communities from an ongoing global change experiment that is supported by DOE’s Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program.

This project is lead by Prof. Steve Allison at UC Irvine with co-PIs Prof. Jennifer Martiny, Prof. Adam Martiny, Prof. Kathleen Treseder and Prof. Mike Goulden (all UC Irvine) and Dr. Eoin Brodie (LBNL). More information is available here.

This project is funded by the Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research, Genomic Science program.

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