Whole community microbial inoculation can improve soil function in contaminated environments. Here we conducted a case study to investigate whether biotic factors (inoculum) or abiotic factors (soil base) have more impact on the extracellular enzymatic activities in a whole community microbial inoculation. To this end, we cross-inoculated microbial communities between two heavy metal-contaminated soils, with high and low extracellular enzyme activities, respectively. We measured extracellular phosphatase activity, a proxy for soil function, after self- and cross-inoculation of microbial communities into sterilized soils, and all activities were normalized to non-inoculated controls. We found that inoculation increased phosphatase activity in the soils. For soils treated with different inocula, we found significant differences in the microbial community compositions but no significant differences in the extracellular phosphatase activities normalized to their respective sterilized, non-inoculated controls (4.7 ± 1.8 and 3.3 ± 0.5 for soils inoculated with microbial communities from 146 to 43, respectively). On the other hand, normalized phosphatase activities between the two soil bases were significantly different (4.1 ± 0.12 and 1.9 ± 0.12 for soil bases 146 and 43, respectively) regardless of the source of the inoculum that did not vary between soil bases. The results indicate that the abiotic properties of the soils were a significant predictor for phosphatase activity but not for the end-point composition of the microbial community. The findings suggest that targeted microbial inocula from metal contaminated soils can increase phosphatase activity, and likely soil functioning in general, but the degree to which this happens depends on the abiotic environment, in this case, metal contamination.
- Extracellular soil phosphatase activity
- Soil metal contamination
- Soil microbiome