Trade-off between microbial carbon use efficiency and specific nutrient-acquiring extracellular enzyme activities under reduced oxygen

Ji Chen, Irene Cordero, Daryl L. Moorhead, Jennifer K. Rowntree, Loraé T. Simpson, Richard D. Bardgett, Hayley Craig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


• Reduced oxygen increased microbial metabolic quotient (qCO2).
• Reduced oxygen enhanced microbial specific C-, N- and P-acquiring enzyme activity.
• Reduced oxygen increased microbial C relative to N and P limitation.
• Reduced oxygen increased microbial N relative to P limitation.
• Specific enzyme activity was positively related to qCO2 under reduced oxygen.

Mangroves are one of the most ecologically sensitive ecosystems to global climate change, which have cascading impacts on soil carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycling. Moreover, mangroves are experiencing increasing N and P loadings and reduced oxygen availability due to intensified climate change and human activities. However, both direct and interactive effects of these perturbations on microbially mediated soil C, N and P cycling are poorly understood. Here, we simultaneously investigated the effects of N and P loadings and reduced oxygen on microbial biomass, microbial respiration, and extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs) in mangrove soils. We calculated the microbial metabolic quotient (qCO2), which is regarded as a useful inverse metric of microbial C use efficiency (CUE). Our results show that reduced oxygen significantly increases both qCO2 and microbial specific EEAs (enzyme activity per unit of microbial biomass) for C-, N- and P-acquisition regardless of N or P loadings. Furthermore, we found that qCO2 positively correlated with microbial specific EEAs under reduced oxygen, whereas no clear relationship was detected under ambient oxygen. These results suggest that reduced oxygen increases microbial specific EEAs at the expense of increasing microbial respiration per unit biomass, indicating higher energy cost per unit enzyme production.
Original languageEnglish
Article number220157
Number of pages11
JournalSoil Ecology Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Dec 2022


  • reduced oxygen
  • extracellular enzyme
  • microbial respiration
  • nutrient acquisition
  • nutrient addition
  • mangrove

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