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Physical conditions regulate the fungal to bacterial ratios of a tropical suspended soil

Donald, Julian; Bonnett, Sam; Cutler, Michael; Majalap, Noreen; Maxfield, Pete; Ellwood, M. D. Farnon


Julian Donald

Sam Bonnett
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science

Michael Cutler

Noreen Majalap

Pete Maxfield
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Chemistry

M. D. Farnon Ellwood


As a source of ‘suspended soils’, epiphytes contribute large amounts of organic matter to the canopy of tropical rain forests. Microbes associated with epiphytes are responsible for much of the nutrient cycling taking place in rain forest canopies. However, soils suspended far above the ground in living organisms differ from soil on the forest floor, and traditional predictors of soil microbial community composition and functioning (nutrient availability and the activity of soil organisms) are likely to be less important. We conducted an experiment in the rain forest biome at the Eden Project in Cornwall to explore how biotic and abiotic conditions determine microbial community composition and functioning in a suspended soil. To simulate their natural epiphytic lifestyle, 20 bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus) were placed on a custom-built canopy platform suspended 8m above the ground. Ammonium nitrate and earthworm treatments were applied to ferns in a factorial design. Extracellular enzyme activity and Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) profiles were determined at zero, three and six months. We observed no significant differences in either enzyme activity or PLFA profiles between any of the treatments. Instead, we observed decreases in β-glucosidase and N-acetyl-glucosaminidase activity, and an increase in phenol oxidase activity across all treatments and controls. An increase in the relative abundance of fungi during the experiment meant that the microbial communities in the Eden Project ferns after six months were comparable with 20 ferns sampled from pristine tropical rain forest in Borneo.


Donald, J., Bonnett, S., Cutler, M., Majalap, N., Maxfield, P., & Ellwood, M. D. F. (2017). Physical conditions regulate the fungal to bacterial ratios of a tropical suspended soil. Forests, 8(12),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 28, 2017
Online Publication Date Dec 2, 2017
Publication Date Dec 2, 2017
Journal Forests
Electronic ISSN 1999-4907
Publisher MDPI
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 8
Issue 12
Article Number 474
Keywords canopy, epiphyte, fungi, bacteria, earthworm, nitrogen, PLFAs, enzyme, functioning
Public URL
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