Climate change constitutes a serious threat for European heathlands as unlike other sources of damage, such as over-grazing, local remediation is not a possibility. Within the large pan-European projects, CLIMOOR and VULCAN, the effect of periodic drought and increased temperature were investigated in four heathland ecosystems along a geographical and climatic gradient across Europe. Fluorogenically labelled substrates for four enzymes (glucosidase, sulphatase, phosphatase, leucine amino peptidase) were used to measure extra-cellular enzyme activity in soil samples from each of the CLIMOOR sites. Microbial extra-cellular enzyme production is linked to microbial activity as well as soil physico-chemical properties, making soil enzymes one of the more reactive components of terrestrial ecosystems and potentially excellent indicators of soil microbial functional status and diversity. Across all sites and over all the substrates, organic matter content was exponentially, inversely related to enzyme activity. Although the increase in temperature produced by the CLIMOOR roofs was small (on average 0.9 degrees C), this was sufficient to increase enzyme activity in all sites (on average by 45%). The increase was within the range of seasonal variability at each of the sites. The effect of drought on enzyme activity was more pronounced in the Northern European sites than the southern European, and most moisture limited, site. This suggests that the effect of temperature increases may be observed across all regions; however, the soils of northern Europe may be more sensitive to changes in rainfall patterns than more moisture limited Southern European soils. (c) 2005 Elsevier Lid. All rights reserved.
Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 2005, Vol 37, Issue 10, p. 1805-1813