Microbes substantially control many biogeochemical processes in semiarid systems, including carbon and nitrogen fixation and carbon mineralization. Bacteria and fungi are osmotrophs that release enzymes into the environment to generate assimilable carbon and nutrients from organic particles. These enzymes are also the first agents to respond to pulses of soil moisture. The capacity to stabilize extracellular enzymes on soil particles preserves the utility of these nutrient-generating agents during extended dry periods. Enzyme stability can relate to environmental conditions and increase with clay mineral and humic compound concentrations. To better understand microbial response to precipitation variability, our objective was to determine the stability of extracellular enzymes under various monsoon precipitation regimes. During summer 2010, soil enzyme activity was measured in a rainfall manipulation study within a mixed-grass semiarid grassland in New Mexico, USA. Plots received either one large rain event or three evenly spaced small rain events per month. Before and after the first rain of each month, soil samples from the rhizosphere and from interspaces between plants were collected and analyzed for activity of four hydrolases; beta-glucosidase, beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase, leucine aminopeptidase, and alkaline phosphatase.
For experimental design and precipitation manipulations see SEV218.
Before the first rain of each month, soil samples were collected from the rhizosphere and interspaces between plants. Four soil cores (1cm wide, 3 cm deep) were taken across the plot, with rhizoshpere samples from under B. eriopoda and B. gracilis, and mixed together for each sample. Enzyme activity in the rhizosphere and interspace were analyzed separately. Two hours after the rain event, soil samples were again collected in the same manner. Microbial response to precipitation is quick therefore 2 hours was ample time to assess microbial response. Samples were refrigerated and processed within 48 hours of collection to prevent enzyme degradation. Soils were subsampled for organic matter and water content. Field soil moisture was calculated by comparing weights of freshly collected soil and soil dried at 60 °C. A subsample was also burned at 500 °C for 4 hours to determine percent organic matter. The potential activity levels of beta-glucosidase, beta-N-acetylglucosaminidase, leucine aminopeptidase, alkaline phosphatase, and phenol oxidase were measured in the lab following the methods of Stursova et al. (2006).