Rhizodeposition affects the microbial community in the rhizosphere, and microbial composition and activity may therefore differ in soil depending on plant species. We hypothesised that these differences increase over the plant growth period because roots occupy larger soil volumes and release more rhizodeposits. We tested how such medium-term responses of the microbial community can be explained by the short-term utilisation of root exudates. To test this we analysed 15N incorporation into microbial biomass, phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) composition and 13C incorporation into the PLFAs of specific microbial groups in soil under white clover (Trifolium repens L.) and ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) following leaf-labelling with 13C-bicarbonate and 15N-urea. In this way microbial N and 15N and the composition of PLFAs reflect the medium-term (two months) response of microorganisms to rhizodeposits, whereas the 13C-label of the PLFAs reflects the short-term (one week) utilisation of root exudates following labelling of shoots. In the medium term, microbial biomass N and 15N were greater under the ryegrass, whereas total PLFA was higher under white clover. The relative abundance of fungi and actinomycetes was unaffected by plant species, but pool of Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria was greater under white clover at the 10 percent significance level. In the short term, microorganisms more actively utilised fresh exudates (13C-labelled) of ryegrass than of white clover. We expected ryegrass exudates initially to be incorporated into bacterial PLFA and into fungi over time, but surprisingly fungi had the highest utilisation of ryegrass-derived C over the week. At 0–5 cm soil depth, white clover exudates were utilised only by bacteria, whereas fungi dominated at 5–15 cm. This reflects differences in the quality of white clover exudates or differences in the microbial community composition at the two depths. We conclude that despite clear short-term differences in microbial response to the exudates of white clover and ryegrass, this is only to a limited extent transferred into medium-term defects on the composition of the microbial communities under the two plant species. Hence, our study showed that different short-term C utilisation patterns may lead to similar medium-term responses of the microbial community.
Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 2014, Vol 76, p. 22-33