European Journal of Soil Biology, Volume 82, September 2017,
Climate change is modifying global biogeochemical cycles. Microbial communities play an integral role in soil biogeochemical cycles; knowledge about microbial composition helps provide a mechanistic understanding of these ecosystem-level phenomena. Next generation sequencing approaches were used to investigate changes in microbial functional groups during ecosystem development, in response to climate change, in northern boreal wetlands. A gradient of wetlands that developed following permafrost degradation was used to characterize changes in the soil microbial communities that mediate C cycling: a bog representing an “undisturbed” system with intact permafrost, and a younger bog and an older bog that formed following the disturbance of permafrost thaw. Reference 16S rRNA databases and several diversity indices were used to assess structural differences among these communities, to assess relationships between soil microbial community composition and various environmental variables including redox potential and pH. Rates of potential CO2 and CH4 gas production were quantified to correlate sequence data with gas flux. The abundance of organic C degraders was highest in the youngest bog, suggesting higher rates of microbial processes, including potential CH4 production. In addition, alpha diversity was also highest in the youngest bog, which seemed to be related to a more neutral pH and a lower redox potential. These results could potentially be driven by increased niche differentiation in anaerobic soils. These results suggest that ecosystem structure, which was largely driven by changes in edaphic and plant community characteristics between the “undisturbed” permafrost bog and the two bogs formed following permafrost thaw, strongly influenced microbial function.