The pinyon rhizosphere, plant stress, and herbivory affect the abundance of microbial decomposers in soils

C. R. Kuske, L. O. Ticknor, J. D. Busch, C. A. Gehring, T. G. Whitham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


In terrestrial ecosystems, changes in environmental conditions that affect plant performance cause a cascade of effects through many trophic levels. In a 2-year field study, seasonal abundance measurements were conducted for fast-growing bacterial heterotrophs, humate-degrading actinomycetes, fungal heterotrophs, and fluorescent pseudomonads that represent the decomposers in soil. Links between plant health and soil microbiota abundance in pinyon rhizospheres were documented across two soil types: a dry, nutrient-poor volcanic cinder field and a sandyloam soil. On the stressful cinder fields, we identified relationships between soil decomposer abundance, pinyon age, and stress due to insect herbivory. Across seasonal variation, consistent differences in microbial decomposer abundance were identified between the cinders and sandy-loam soil. Abundance of bacterial heterotrophs and humate-degrading actinomycetes was affected by both soil nutritional status and the pinyon rhizosphere. In contrast, abundance of the fungal heterotrophs and fluorescent pseudomonads was affected primarily by the pinyon rhizosphere. On the cinder field, the three bacterial groups were more abundant on 150-year-old trees than on 60-year-old trees, whereas fungal heterotrophs were unaffected by tree age. Fungal heterotrophs and actinomycetes were more abundant on insect-resistant trees than on susceptible trees, but the opposite was true for the fluorescent pseudomonads. Although all four groups were present in all the environments, the four microbial groups were affected differently by the pinyon rhizosphere, by tree age, and by tree stress caused by the cinder soil and insect herbivory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-352
Number of pages13
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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