Rhizosphere effects on soil nutrient dynamics and microbial activity in an Australian tropical lowland rainforest
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Via vast exchanges of energy, water, carbon, and nutrients, tropical forests are a major driving force in the regulation of Earth's biogeochemical, hydrological, and climatic cycles. Given the critical role of rhizosphere processes in nutrient cycling, it is likely that rhizosphere processes in tropical rainforests form a major component of the biome's interactions with global cycles. Little is known, however, about rhizospheric processes in rainforest soils. In order to investigate the influence of rhizosphere processes upon rainforest nutrient cycling, we compared the nutrient status and microbial activity of rhizospheric soil from Australian lowland tropical rainforest with that of the surrounding bulk soil. We found a marked difference in the biological and chemical nature of the rhizosphere and bulk soils. Total carbon, microbial biomass carbon, total nitrogen, soluble nitrogen, and a suite of trace element concentrations, alongside microbial respiration and the rate and diversity of carbon substrate use, were all significantly higher in the rhizosphere soil than the bulk soil. Rhizosphere soil d15N was significantly lower than that of the bulk soil. Ratios of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur differed significantly between the rhizosphere and bulk soil. These clear differences suggest that rhizosphere processes strongly influence nutrient cycling in lowland tropical rainforest, and are likely to play an important role in its interaction with global cycles. This role may be under-represented with composite sampling of rhizosphere and bulk soil. Further research is required regarding the mechanisms of rainforest rhizospheric processes and their relationship with ecosystem productivity, stability, and environmental change.