Stand-replacing disturbances are a key element of the Norway spruce (Picea abies
) forest life cycle. While the effect of a natural disturbance regime on forest physiognomy, spatial structure and pedocomplexity was well described in the literature, its impact on the microbiome, a crucial soil component that mediates nutrient cycling and stand productivity, remains largely unknown. For this purpose, we conducted research on a chronosequence of sites representing the post-disturbance development of a primeval Norway spruce forest in the Calimani Mts., Romania. The sites were selected along a gradient of duration from 16 to 160 years that ranges from ecosystem regeneration phases of recently disturbed open gaps to old-growth forest stands. Based on DNA amplicon sequencing, we followed bacterial and fungal community composition separately in organic, upper mineral and spodic horizons of present Podzol soils. We observed that the canopy opening and subsequent expansion of the grass-dominated understorey increased soil N availability and soil pH, which was reflected in enlarged bacterial abundance and diversity, namely due to the contribution of copiotrophic bacteria that prefer nutrient-richer conditions. The fungal community composition was affected by the disturbance as well but, contrary to our expectations, with no obvious effect on the relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Once the mature stand was re-established, the N availability was reduced, the pH gradually decreased and the original old-growth forest microbial community dominated by acidotolerant oligotrophs recovered. The effect of the disturbance and forest regeneration was most evident in organic horizons, while the manifestation of these events was weaker and delayed in deeper soil horizons.
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