Changes in microbial community metabolism and labile organic matter fractions as early indicators of the impact of management on soil biological quality

Gary D. Bending, C. Putland, F. Rayns

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    118 Citations (Scopus)


    Changes to the metabolic profiles of soil microbial communities could have potential for use as early indicators of the impact of management or other perturbations on soil functioning and soil quality. We compared the relative susceptibility to management of microbial community metabolism with a number of soil organic matter (OM) and microbial parameters currently used as indicators of changes in soil biological quality. Following long-term cereal cropping, plots were subjected to a 16-month treatment period consisting of either a mixed cropping sequence of vetch, spring barley and clover or a continuous grass-clover ley which was periodically mown and mulched. The treatments had no effect on soil biomass N or respiration of microbial populations inoculated into Biolog Gram negative (GN) plates. After 16 months there were no management-induced changes to total OM, light-fraction OM C and N, labile organic N or water-soluble carbohydrates. However, patterns of substrate utilization by the soil microbial population following inoculation into Biolog GN plates were found to be highly sensitive to management practice. In the mixed cropping sequence, substrate utilization changed markedly following plough-in of the vetch crop, with a smaller change occurring after harvesting of the barley. In the ley treatment, substrate utilization was not affected until the onset of mowing, when the pattern changed to become similar to that in the mixed cropping sequence. Metabolic diversity of the Biolog-culturable microbial population was increased by the ley treatment, but was not affected by the cropping sequence. We conclude that patterns of microbial substrate utilization and metabolic diversity are more sensitive to the effects of management than are OM and biomass pools, and therefore have value as early indicators of the impacts of management on soil biological properties, and hence soil quality.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)78-84
    Number of pages7
    JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2000


    • Agricultural management practices
    • Biolog substrate-utilization patterns
    • Light-fraction organic matter
    • Microbial biomass
    • Microbial metabolic diversity

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Microbiology
    • Agronomy and Crop Science
    • Soil Science


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