Short-rotation woody biomass crops (SRWCs) have been proposed as an alternative feedstock for biofuel production in the northeastern US that leads to the conversion of current open land to woody plantations, potentially altering the soil microbial community structures and hence functions. We used pyrosequencing of 16S and 28S rRNA genes in soil to assess bacterial and fungal populations when ‘marginal’ grasslands were converted into willow (Salix spp.) and hybrid poplar (Populus spp.) plantations at two sites with similar soils and climate history in northern Michigan (Escanaba; ES) and Wisconsin (Rhinelander; RH). In only three growing seasons, the conversion significantly altered both the bacterial and fungal communities, which were most influenced by site and then vegetation. The fungal community showed greater change than the bacterial community in response to land conversion at both sites with substantial enrichment of putative pathogenic, ectomycorrhizal, and endophytic fungi associated with poplar and willow. Conversely, the bacterial community structures shifted, but to a lesser degree, with the new communities dissimilar at the two sites and most correlated with soil nutrient status. The bacterial phylum Nitrospirae increased after conversion and was negatively correlated to total soil nitrogen, but positively correlated to soil nitrate, and may be responsible for nitrate accumulation and the increased N2O emissions previously reported following conversion at these sites. The legacy effect of a much longer grassland history and a second dry summer at the ES site may have influenced the grassland (control) microbial community to remain stable while it varied at the RH site.
- short-rotation woody biomass crop
- soil bacterial community
- soil fungal community
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Waste Management and Disposal