Impact of disturbance on soil microbial activity in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert

TitleImpact of disturbance on soil microbial activity in the Northern Chihuahuan Desert
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsSchwab LK, Unc A, Lucero M.E.
Conference Name13th International Symposium on Microbial Ecology
Date Published08/2010
PublisherInternational Symposium on Microbial Ecology
ARIS Log Number260543
AbstractCryptobiotic soil crusts in arid regions contribute to ecosystem stability through increased water infiltration, soil aggregate stability, and nutrient cycling between the soil community and vascular plants. These crusts are particularly sensitive to compaction/fracturing disturbances such as livestock grazing, off-road vehicle use, trampling by humans, and drilling and mining activities. Loss of soil crusts is believed to increase the rate of desertification, and recent findings indicate that crusts are extremely slow to recover, on the order of hundreds of years. However, post-disturbance recovery rates for soil bacterial and fungal populations is vastly understudied, and it is suggested that loss of soil crusts leads to decreased abundance and diversity of these non-crust soil biota. Soil microbial activity within and around two natural gas well pads embedded within a livestock grazing area were investigated. During the natural gas extraction process, the shallow surface soil is stockpiled near the well pad. Surface and subsurface soil samples were taken from the heavily compacted well pad, the surface soil stockpile (fallow 12 yr), the grazed area outside of the well pad, and a lightly grazed area with intact crusts. Microbial activity was measured using the MicroResp™ system, which measures respiration of microbes within whole soil samples supplemented with various carbon sources (simple and polymeric sugars, amino acids, carboxylic acids, and fatty acids). Preliminary results indicate slightly reduced activity in heavily disturbed well pad areas compared to grazed areas, although overall activity for all samples was not significantly different from controls. Activity was marginally higher in surface soils (top 5 cm) compared to subsurface soils (5-30 cm).