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Salt effects on the soil microbial decomposer community and their role in organic carbon cycling: A review

  • Kristin Rath
  • Johannes Rousk
Publishing year: 2015
Language: English
Pages: 108-123
Publication/Series: Soil Biology & Biochemistry
Volume: 81
Document type: Journal article review
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english

Salinization of soil is recognised as one of the most pressing environmental challenges to resolve for the next century. We here conduct a synoptic review of the available research on how salt affects decomposer microbial communities and carbon (C) cycling in soil. After summarizing known physiological responses of microorganisms to salinity, we provide a brief overview and qualification of a selection of widely applied methods to assess microorganisms in soil to date. The dominant approaches to characterise microbial responses to salt exposure have so far been microbial biomass and respiration measurements. We compile datasets from a selection of studies and find that (1) microbial biomass-carbon (C) per C held in soil organic matter shows no consistent pattern with long-term (field gradients) or short-term (laboratory additions) soil salinity level, and (2) respiration per soil organic C is substantially inhibited by higher salt concentrations in soil, and consistently so for both short-term and long-term salinity levels. Patterns that emerge from extra-cellular enzyme assessments are more difficult to generalize, and appear to vary with the enzyme studied, and its context. Growth based assessments of microbial responses to salinization are largely lacking. Relating the established responses of microbial respiration to that of growth could provide an estimate for how the microbial C-use efficiency would be affected by salt exposure. This would be a valuable predictor for changes in soil C sequestration. A few studies have investigated the connection between microbial tolerance to salt and the soil salinity levels, but so far results have not been conclusive. We predict that more systematic inquiries including comprehensive ranges of soil salinities will substantiate a connection between soil salinity and microbial tolerance to salt. This would confirm that salinity has a direct effect on the composition of microbial communities. While salt has been identified as one of the most powerful environmental factors to structure microbial communities in aquatic environments, no up-to-date sequence based assessments currently exist from soil. Filling this gap should be a research priority. Moreover, linking sequencing based assessments of microbial communities to their tolerance to salt would have the potential to yield biomarker sets of microbial sequences. This could provide predictive power for, e.g., the sensitivity of agricultural soils to salt exposure, and, as such, a useful tool for soil resource management. We conclude that salt exposure has a powerful influence on soil microbial communities and processes. In addition to being one of the most pressing agricultural problems to solve, this influence could also be used as an experimental probe to better understand how microorganisms control the biogeochemistry in soil. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Biological Sciences
  • Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Pollution induced community tolerance (PICT)
  • Salinity
  • gradient
  • Sodic
  • Arid drylands
  • Agricultural contaminants


  • Pollution effects on soil microorganisms
  • Effect of environmental factors on fungal and bacterial growth in soil
  • Microbial carbon-use efficiency
  • Microbial Ecology
  • ISSN: 0038-0717
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E-mail: johannes [dot] rousk [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

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