Functional stability of microbial communities in contaminated soils

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Functional stability, measured in terms of resistance and resilience of respiration and growth rate of bacteria and fungi, was studied in soils that have been exposed to copper and low pH for more than twenty years. We used treatments, consisting of soil with no or high copper load (0 or 750 kg ha(-1)) and low or neutral pH (4.0 or 6.1). Stability was examined by applying an additional stress in the form of lead or salt. After addition of lead, respiration (decomposition of freshly added lucerne meal) showed lower resistance at low than at neutral pH and at high copper than at low copper. The most acid and contaminated soil was the least resistant. Respiration showed no resilience after addition of lead. Bacterial growth rate (thymidine incorporation) also showed resistance at low pH but only in soils that were not contaminated with copper. After addition of salt, respiration showed no differences in resistance but the soils without copper contamination showed higher resilience. Bacterial growth rate showed lower resistance at low pH than at neutral pH, the latter in which the growth rate increased by on average 123%. This increase at high pH was faster in soil without copper than in soil with copper contamination in which the growth rate initially decreased and then increased. The effects of secondary stress depended on the nature of the stress (lead or salt) and on the parameter measured (respiration or bacterial growth rate). In general the highest resistance and/or resilience were found in the least contaminated soils with neutral pH and/or no copper contamination. Thus, the microbial communities in the cleaner soils showed the highest functional stability. The results seem to confirm the notion that environmental stress alters ecosystems such that supplementary stress will have stronger impacts than in an unstressed system. The results may also confirm the insurance-hypothesis that reduced biodiversity due to the first stress negatively affected community stability. As an alternative, we discuss the observed effects in terms of altered energy budget.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-129
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • heavy-metal tolerance
  • ecosystem function relationship
  • fatty-acid-composition
  • leucine incorporation
  • thymidine incorporation
  • bacterial communities
  • arable soil
  • biodiversity
  • diversity
  • pollution


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