Agro-ecosystems experience huge losses of land every year due to soil erosion induced by poor agricultural practices such as intensive tillage. Erosion can be minimized by the presence of stable soil aggregates, the formation of which can be promoted by bacteria. Some of these microorganisms have the ability to produce exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides that “glue” soil particles together. However, little is known about the influence of tillage intensity on the bacterial potential to produce these polysaccharides, even though more stable soil aggregates are usually observed under less intense tillage. As the effects of tillage intensity on soil aggregate stability may vary between sites, we hypothesized that the response of polysaccharide-producing bacteria to tillage intensity is also determined by site-specific conditions. To investigate this, we performed a high-throughput shotgun sequencing of DNA extracted from conventionally and reduced tilled soils from three tillage system field trials characterized by different soil parameters. While we confirmed that the impact of tillage intensity on soil aggregates is site-specific, we could connect improved aggregate stability with increased absolute abundance of genes involved in the production of exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides. The potential to produce polysaccharides was generally promoted under reduced tillage due to the increased microbial biomass. We also found that the response of most potential producers of polysaccharides to tillage was site-specific, e.g., Oxalobacteraceae had higher potential to produce polysaccharides under reduced tillage at one site, and showed the opposite response at another site. However, the response of some potential producers of polysaccharides to tillage did not depend on site characteristics, but rather on their taxonomic affiliation, i.e., all members of Actinobacteria that responded to tillage intensity had higher potential for exopolysaccharide and lipopolysaccharide production specifically under reduced tillage. This could be especially crucial for aggregate stability, as polysaccharides produced by different taxa have different “gluing” efficiency. Overall, our data indicate that tillage intensity could affect aggregate stability by both influencing the absolute abundance of genes involved in the production of exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides, as well as by inducing shifts in the community of potential polysaccharide producers. The effects of tillage intensity depend mostly on site-specific conditions.
- Soil aggregation
- Soil microbiome