Microbial growth under drought is confined to distinct taxa and modified by potential future climate conditions

Dennis Metze, Jörg Schnecker, Alberto Canarini, Lucia Fuchslueger, Benjamin J. Koch, Bram W. Stone, Bruce A. Hungate, Bela Hausmann, Hannes Schmidt, Andreas Schaumberger, Michael Bahn, Christina Kaiser, Andreas Richter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of drought events, affecting soil functions including carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling, which are driven by growing microorganisms. Yet we know little about microbial responses to drought due to methodological limitations. Here, we estimate microbial growth rates in montane grassland soils exposed to ambient conditions, drought, and potential future climate conditions (i.e., soils exposed to 6 years of elevated temperatures and elevated CO2 levels). For this purpose, we combined 18O-water vapor equilibration with quantitative stable isotope probing (termed ‘vapor-qSIP’) to measure taxon-specific microbial growth in dry soils. In our experiments, drought caused >90% of bacterial and archaeal taxa to stop dividing and reduced the growth rates of persisting ones. Under drought, growing taxa accounted for only 4% of the total community as compared to 35% in the controls. Drought-tolerant communities were dominated by specialized members of the Actinobacteriota, particularly the genus Streptomyces. Six years of pre-exposure to future climate conditions (3 °C warming and + 300 ppm atmospheric CO2) alleviated drought effects on microbial growth, through more drought-tolerant taxa across major phyla, accounting for 9% of the total community. Our results provide insights into the response of active microbes to drought today and in a future climate, and highlight the importance of studying drought in combination with future climate conditions to capture interactive effects and improve predictions of future soil-climate feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5895
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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