The present study investigated the effects of land-use abandonment on the soil decomposer community of two grazed Mediterranean ecosystems (an annual grassland with scattered holm oaks and a low-density shrubland). To test the influence of grazing abandonment, a set of plots within each site were fenced and kept undisturbed during 4-5 years, during which above-ground plant community structure was monitored. After that, soil samples were collected from grazed and abandoned plots corresponding to the three different soil conditions: away from ("grass") and below tree canopies ("oak") within the annual grassland, and from the shrubland ("shrub"). Soil samples were split into two different layers (0-5 and 5-15 cm) and then analyzed for saprotrophic fungal (acetate into ergosterol incorporation) and bacterial (leucine incorporation) growth rates. Ergosterol content (as a fungal biomass estimator) and a standard set of soil chemistry variables were also measured. After 5 years of grazing exclusion, saprotrophic fungal growth rate clearly increased in both grass and oak surface layers whereas bacterial growth rate was not altered. This translated into significantly higher fungal-to-bacterial (F/B) growth rate ratios within the ungrazed plots. Similar trends were observed for the shrub soils after 4 years of exclusion. On the contrary, abandonment of grazing had negligible effects on the ergosterol content, as well as on the soil chemical variables (soil organic carbon, total N, C/N ratio, and pH), in all the three soil conditions assessed. These results indicated a shift toward a more fungal-dominated decomposer activity in soils following cessation of grazing and highlighted the sensitivity of the microbial growth rate parameters to changes associated with land use. Moreover, there were evidences of a faster fungal biomass turnover in the ungrazed plots, which would reflect an accelerated, though not bigger, fungal channel in soil organic matter mineralization.
Bacterial growth rate
Effect of environmental factors on fungal and bacterial growth in soil