Effects of forest degradation on microbial communities and soil carbon cycling: A global meta-analysis

Zhenghu Zhou, Chuankuan Wang, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Aim: The aim was to explore how conversions of primary or secondary forests to plantations or agricultural systems influence soil microbial communities and soil carbon (C) cycling. Location: Global. Time period: 1993–2017. Major taxa studied: Soil microbes. Methods: A meta-analysis was conducted to examine effects of forest degradation on soil properties and microbial attributes related to microbial biomass, activity, community composition and diversity based on 408 cases from 119 studies in the world. Results: Forest degradation decreased the ratios of K-strategists to r-strategists (i.e., ratios of fungi to bacteria, Acidobacteria to Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria to Bacteroidetes and Acidobacteria + Actinobacteria to Proteobacteria + Bacteroidetes). The response ratios (RRs) of the K-strategist to r-strategist ratios to forest degradation decreased and increased with increased RRs of soil pH and soil C to nitrogen ratio (C:N), respectively. Forest degradation increased the bacterial alpha-diversity indexes, of which the RRs increased and decreased as the RRs of soil pH and soil C:N increased, respectively. The overall RRs across all the forest degradation types ranked as microbial C (−40.4%) > soil C (−33.3%) > microbial respiration (−18.9%) > microbial C to soil C ratio (qMBC; −15.9%), leading to the RRs of microbial respiration rate per unit microbial C (qCO2) and soil C decomposition rate (respiration rate per unit soil C), on average, increasing by +43.2 and +25.0%, respectively. Variances of the RRs of qMBC and qCO2 were significantly explained by the soil C, soil C:N and mean annual precipitation. Main conclusions: Forest degradation consistently shifted soil microbial community compositions from K-strategist dominated to r-strategist dominated, altered soil properties and stimulated microbial activity and soil C decomposition. These results are important for modelling the soil C cycling under projected global land-use changes and provide supportive evidence for applying the macroecology theory on ecosystem succession and disturbance in soil microbial ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-124
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • carbon decomposition
  • forest degradation
  • land use
  • microbial community
  • microbial diversity
  • microbial metabolic quotient
  • soil carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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