Microbial decomposition drives the transformation of plant-derived substrates into microbial products that form stable soil organic matter (SOM). Recent theories have posited that decomposition depends on an interaction between SOM chemistry with microbial diversity and resulting function (e.g., enzymatic capabilities, growth rates). Here, we explicitly test these theories by coupling quantitative stable isotope probing and metabolomics to track the fate of 13C enriched substrates that vary in chemical composition as they are assimilated by microbes and transformed into new metabolic products in soil. We found that differences in forest nutrient economies (e.g., nutrient cycling, microbial competition) led to arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) soils harboring greater diversity of fungi and bacteria than ectomycorrhizal (ECM) soils. When incubated with 13C enriched substrates, substrate type drove shifts in which species were active decomposers and the abundance of metabolic products that were reduced or saturated in the highly diverse AM soils. The decomposition pathways were more static in the less diverse, ECM soil. Importantly, the majority of these shifts were driven by taxa only present in the AM soil suggesting a strong link between microbial identity and their ability to decompose and assimilate substrates. Collectively, these results highlight an important interaction between ecosystem-level processes and microbial diversity; whereby the identity and function of active decomposers impacts the composition of decomposition products that can form stable SOM.
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