Pasture age impacts soil fungal composition while bacteria respond to soil chemistry


Pasture is a globally important managed habitat providing both food and income. The way in which it is managed leads to a wide range of impacts on soil microbial communities and associated soil health. While there have been several studies comparing pasture farming to other forms of land use, we still have limited understanding of how the soil microbial communities vary between pasture farms and according to management practices. Here we present the results of a field survey across 56 UK livestock farms that are managed by members of the Pasture fed Livestock Association, using amplicon sequencing of the 16S and ITS regions to characterise the soil bacterial and fungal community within fields that have been under pasture for differing durations. We show that grazing management intensity has only limited effects upon microbial community structure, while the duration of pasture since ploughing (ranging from 1 year to over 100 years) impacted the fungal community structure. The impact of management duration was conditional upon soil physicochemical properties, particularly pH. Plant community effects on upon soil bacterial and fungal composition appear to also interact with the soil chemistry, highlighting the importance of plant-soil interactions in determining microbial community structure. Analyses of microbial indicators revealed proportionally more fungal taxa that responded to multiple ecosystem health associated properties than bacterial taxa. We also identified several fungal taxa that both acted as indicators of soil health related properties within our dataset and showed differentiation between grassland types in a national survey, indicating the generality of some fungal indicators to the national level. Members of the Agaricomycetes were associated with multiple indicators of soil health. Our results show the importance of maintaining grassland for the development of plant-soil interactions and microbial community structure with concomitant effects on soil and general ecosystem health.