Vertical Distribution of Soil Denitrifying Communities in a Wet Sclerophyll Forest under Long-Term Repeated Burning
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Soil biogeochemical cycles are largely mediated by microorganisms, while fire significantly modifies biogeochemical cycles mainly via altering microbial community and substrate availability. Majority of studies on fire effects have focused on the surface soil; therefore, our understanding of the vertical distribution of microbial communities and the impacts of fire on nitrogen (N) dynamics in the soil profile is limited. Here, we examined the changes of soil denitrification capacity (DNC) and denitrifying communities with depth under different burning regimes, and their interaction with environmental gradients along the soil profile. Results showed that soil depth had a more pronounced impact than the burning treatment on the bacterial community size. The abundance of 16S rRNA and denitrification genes (narG, nirK, and nirS) declined exponentially with soil depth. Surprisingly, the nosZ-harboring denitrifiers were enriched in the deeper soil layers, which was likely to indicate that the nosZ-harboring denitrifiers could better adapt to the stress conditions (i.e., oxygen deficiency, nutrient limitation, etc.) than other denitrifiers. Soil nutrients, including dissolved organic carbon (DOC), total soluble N (TSN), ammonium (NH4+), and nitrate (NO3−), declined significantly with soil depth, which probably contributed to the vertical distribution of denitrifying communities. Soil DNC decreased significantly with soil depth, which was negligible in the depths below 20 cm. These findings have provided new insights into niche separation of the N-cycling functional guilds along the soil profile, under a varied fire disturbance regime.