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Soil Biology & Biochemistry

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Agricultural practices have strong impacts on soil microbes including both the indices related to biomass and activity as well as those related to community composition. In a grassland restoration project in California, where native perennial bunchgrasses were introduced into non-native annual grassland after a period of intensive tillage, weeding, and herbicide use to reduce the annual seed bank, microbial community composition was investigated. Three treatments were compared: annual grassland, bare soil fallow, and restored perennial grassland. Soil profiles down to 80cm in depth were investigated in four separate layers (0–15, 15–30, 30–60, and 60–80cm) using both phospholipid ester-linked fatty acid (PLFAs) and ergosterol as biomarkers in addition to microbial biomass C by fumigation extraction. PLFA fingerprinting showed much stronger differences between the tilled bare fallow treatment vs. grasslands, compared to fewer differences between restored perennial grassland and annual grassland. The presence or absence of plants over several years clearly distinguished microbial communities. Microbial communities in lower soil layers were little affected by management practices. Regardless of treatment, soil depth caused a strong gradient of changing habitat conditions, which was reflected in Canonical Correspondence Analysis of PLFAs. Fungal organisms were associated with the presence of plants and/or litter since the total amount and the relative proportion of fungal markers were reduced in the tilled bare fallow and in lower layers of the grassland treatments. Total PLFA and soil microbial biomass were highly correlated, and fungal PLFA biomarkers showed strong correlations to ergosterol content. In conclusion, microbial communities are resilient to the grassland restoration process, but do not reflect the change in plant species composition that occurred after planting native bunchgrasses.