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 the U.K. to explore how biotic and abiotic conditions determine microbial community composition and functioning in a suspended soil. To simulate their natural epiphytic lifestyle, bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus
) were placed on a custom-built canopy platform suspended 8 m 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 over time. 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 ferns sampled from primary tropical rain forest in Borneo.
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