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  1. Mineral stabilization of soil organic matter is an important regulator of the global carbon (C) cycle. However, the vulnerability of mineral-stabilized organic matter (OM) to climate change is currently unknown. We examined soil profiles from 34 sites across the conterminous USA to investigate how the abundance and persistence of mineral-associated organic C varied with climate at the continental scale. Using a novel combination of radiocarbon and molecular composition measurements, we show that the relationship between the abundance and persistence of mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM) appears to be driven by moisture availability. In wetter climates where precipitation exceeds evapotranspiration, excess moisture leads to deeper and more prolonged periods of wetness, creating conditions which favor greater root abundance and also allow for greater diffusion and interaction of inputs with MAOM. In these humid soils, mineral-associated soil organic C concentration and persistence are strongly linked, whereas this relationship is absent in drier climates. In arid soils, root abundance is lower, and interaction of inputs with mineral surfaces is limited by shallower and briefer periods of moisture, resulting in a disconnect between concentration and persistence. Data suggest a tipping point in the cycling of mineral-associated C at a climate threshold where precipitation equals evaporation. As climate patterns shift, our findings emphasize that divergence in the mechanisms of OM persistence associated with historical climate legacies need to be considered in process-based models. 
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  2. Summary

    Despite the abundance of studies demonstrating the effects of drought on soil microbial communities, the role of land use legacies in mediating these drought effects is unclear. To assess historical land use influences on microbial drought responses, we conducted a drought‐rewetting experiment in soils from two adjacent and currently forested watersheds with distinct land use histories: an undisturbed ‘reference’ site and a ‘disturbed’ site that was clear‐cut and converted to agriculture ~60 years prior. We incubated intact soil cores at either constant moisture or under a drought‐rewet treatment and characterized bacterial and fungal communities using amplicon sequencing throughout the experiment. Bacterial alpha diversity decreased following drought‐rewetting while fungal diversity increased. Bacterial beta diversity also changed markedly following drought‐rewetting, especially in historically disturbed soils, while fungal beta diversity exhibited little response. Additionally, bacterial beta diversity in disturbed soils recovered less from drought‐rewetting compared with reference soils. Disturbed soil communities also exhibited notable reductions in nitrifying taxa, increases in putative r‐selected bacteria, and reductions in network connectivity following drought‐rewetting. Overall, our study reveals historical land use to be important in mediating responses of soil bacterial communities to drought, which will influence the ecosystem‐scale trajectories of these environments under ongoing and future climate change.

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  3. Abstract

    Despite ever‐increasing availability of detailed information about microbial community structure, relationships of microbial diversity with ecosystem functioning remain unclear. We investigated these relationships at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, where past forest disturbances (e.g., clear‐cut) have altered both ecosystem processes (e.g., increased N export) and microbial communities (e.g., increased bacterial diversity). We sampled soils from disturbed and adjacent reference forests, characterized resident microbial communities, and measured several microbial C‐cycle and N‐cycle process rates. Microbial communities from historically disturbed soils exhibited altered ecosystem functioning, including generally higher rates of C‐ and N‐cycle processes. Disturbed soil microbial communities also exhibited altered ecosystem multifunctionality, a composite variable consisting of all measured process rates as well as extracellular enzyme activities. Although we found few relationships between ecosystem functions and microbial alpha diversity, all functions were correlated with microbial community composition metrics, particularly r:K strategist ratios of bacterial phyla. Additionally, for both ecosystem multifunctionality and specific processes (i.e., C‐ and N‐mineralization), microbial metrics significantly improved models seeking to explain variation in process rates. Our work sheds light on the links between microbial communities and ecosystem functioning and identifies specific microbial metrics important for modeling ecosystem responses to environmental change.

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