Liming combined with an optimum quantity of inorganic fertilizer, as a soil amendment in intensive agriculture, is a viable agricultural practice in terms of improving soil nutrient status and productivity, as well as mitigating soil degradation. The chief benefits of this strategy are fundamentally dependent on soil microbial function. However, we have limited knowledge about lime’s effects on soil microbiomes and their functions, nor on its comprehensive influence on soil nutrient status and the productivity of sugarcane plantations. This study compares the impacts of lime application (1-year lime (L1), 2-year lime (L2), and no lime (CK) on microbial communities, their functions, soil nutrient status, and crop yield in a sugarcane cropping system. We employed Illumina sequencing and functional analysis (PICRUSt and FUNGuild) to decipher microbial communities and functions. In comparison with CK, lime application (L1 and L2) mitigated soil acidity, increased the level of base cations (Ca2+
), and improved soil nutrient status (especially through N and P) as well as soil microbial functions associated with nutrient cycling and that are beneficial to plants, thereby improving plant agronomic parameters and yield. Liming (L1 and L2) increased species richness and stimulated an abundance of Acidobacteria and Chloroflexi compared to CK. In comparison with CK, the two functional categories related to metabolism (amino acid and carbohydrate) increased in the L1 field, whereas cofactors and vitamin metabolites increased in the L2 field. Turning to fungi, compared to CK, liming enriched symbiotrophs (endophytes, ectomycorrhizae, and arbuscular mycorrhizae) and led to a reduction of saprotrophs (Zygomycota and wood saprotrophs) and pathotrophs. The observed benefits of liming were, in turn, ultimately reflected in improved sugarcane agronomic performance, such as increased stalk height and weight in the sugarcane planting system. However, the increase in the above-mentioned parameters was more prominent in the L2 field compared to the L1 field, suggesting consecutive liming could be a practical approach in terms of sustainable production of sugarcane.
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