Soil Bacterial and Fungal Communities Exhibit Distinct Long-Term Responses to Disturbance in Temperate Forests
In Appalachian ecosystems, forest disturbance has long-term effects on microbially driven biogeochemical processes such as nitrogen (N) cycling. However, little is known regarding long-term responses of forest soil microbial communities to disturbance in the region. We used 16S and ITS sequencing to characterize soil bacterial (16S) and fungal (ITS) communities across forested watersheds with a range of past disturbance regimes and adjacent reference forests at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Bacterial communities in previously disturbed forests exhibited consistent responses, including increased alpha diversity and increased abundance of copiotrophic (e.g., Proteobacteria) and N-cycling (e.g., Nitrospirae) bacterial phyla. Fungal community composition also showed disturbance effects, particularly in mycorrhizal taxa. However, disturbance did not affect fungal alpha diversity, and disturbance effects were not consistent at the fungal class level. Co-occurrence networks constructed for bacteria and fungi showed that disturbed communities were characterized by more connected and tightly clustered network topologies, indicating that disturbance alters not only community composition but also potential ecological interactions among taxa. Although bacteria and fungi displayed different long-term responses to forest disturbance, our results demonstrate clear responses of important bacterial and fungal functional groups (e.g., nitrifying bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi), and suggest that both microbial groups play key roles in the long-term alterations to biogeochemical processes observed following forest disturbance in the region.