Extreme CO2 disturbance and the resilience of soil microbial communities

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
By: , and 



Carbon capture and storage (CSS) technology has the potential to inadvertently release large quantities of CO2 through geologic substrates and into surrounding soils and ecosystems. Such a disturbance has the potential to not only alter the structure and function of plant and animal communities, but also soils, soil microbial communities, and the biogeochemical processes they mediate. At Mammoth Mountain, we assessed the soil microbial community response to CO2 disturbance (derived from volcanic ‘cold’ CO2) that resulted in localized tree kill; soil CO2 concentrations in our study area ranged from 0.6% to 60%. Our objectives were to examine how microbial communities and their activities are restructured by extreme CO2 disturbance, and assess the response of major microbial taxa to the reintroduction of limited plant communities following an extensive period (15–20 years) with no plants. We found that CO2-induced tree kill reduced soil carbon (C) availability along our sampling transect. In response, soil microbial biomass decreased by an order of magnitude from healthy forest to impacted areas. Soil microorganisms were most sensitive to changes in soil organic C, which explained almost 60% of the variation for microbial biomass C (MBC) along the CO2gradient. We employed phospholipid fatty acid analysis and quantitative PCR (qPCR) to determine compositional changes among microbial communities in affected areas and found substantial reductions in microbial biomass linked to the loss of soil fungi. In contrast, archaeal populations responded positively to the CO2 disturbance, presumably due to reduced competition of bacteria and fungi, and perhaps unique adaptations to energy stress. Enzyme activities important in the cycling of soil C, nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) declined with increasing CO2, though specific activities (per unit MBC) remained stable or increased suggesting functional redundancy among restructured communities. We conclude that both the direct (microaerobiosis) and indirect (loss of plant C inputs) effects of elevated soil CO2 flux have significant impacts on the composition and overall structural trajectory of soil microbial populations within disturbed areas.


Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Extreme CO2 disturbance and the resilience of soil microbial communities
Series title Soil Biology and Biochemistry
DOI 10.1016/j.soilbio.2013.04.019
Volume 65
Year Published 2013
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Publisher location Oxford
Contributing office(s) Volcano Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 274
Last page 286
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Mammoth Mountain
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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