Microorganisms in subarctic soils are depleted of ribosomes under short-, medium-, and long-term warming

Andrea Söllinger (Corresponding author), Laureen S Ahlers, Mathilde Borg Dahl, Páll Sigurðsson, Coline Le Noir de Carlan, Biplabi Bhattarai, Christoph Gall, Victoria S Martin, Cornelia Rottensteiner, Liabo L Motleleng, Eva Marie Breines, Erik Verbruggen, Ivika Ostonen, Bjarni D Sigurdsson, Andreas Richter, Alexander T Tveit (Corresponding author)

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


Physiological responses of soil microorganisms to global warming are important for soil ecosystem function and the terrestrial carbon cycle. Here, we investigate the effects of weeks, years, and decades of soil warming across seasons and time on the microbial protein biosynthesis machineries (i.e. ribosomes), the most abundant cellular macromolecular complexes, using RNA:DNA and RNA:MBC (microbial biomass carbon) ratios as proxies for cellular ribosome contents. We compared warmed soils and non-warmed controls of 15 replicated subarctic grassland and forest soil temperature gradients subject to natural geothermal warming. RNA:DNA ratios tended to be lower in the warmed soils during summer and autumn, independent of warming duration (6 weeks, 8-14 years, and > 50 years), warming intensity (+3°C, +6°C, and +9°C), and ecosystem type. With increasing temperatures, RNA:MBC ratios were also decreasing. Additionally, seasonal RNA:DNA ratios of the consecutively sampled forest showed the same temperature-driven pattern. This suggests that subarctic soil microorganisms are depleted of ribosomes under warm conditions and the lack of consistent relationships with other physicochemical parameters besides temperature further suggests temperature as key driver. Furthermore, in incubation experiments, we measured significantly higher CO2 emission rates per unit of RNA from short- and long-term warmed soils compared to non-warmed controls. In conclusion, ribosome reduction may represent a widespread microbial physiological response to warming that offers a selective advantage at higher temperatures, as energy and matter can be reallocated from ribosome synthesis to other processes including substrate uptake and turnover. This way, ribosome reduction could have a substantial effect on soil carbon dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberwrae081
Number of pages10
JournalThe ISME Journal
Issue number1
Early online date9 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 May 2024

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 106026 Ecosystem research
  • 106022 Microbiology


  • Soil Microbiology
  • Ribosomes/metabolism
  • Soil/chemistry
  • Seasons
  • Global Warming
  • Bacteria/metabolism
  • Forests
  • Grassland
  • Temperature
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Carbon Dioxide/metabolism
  • Ecosystem
  • Carbon/metabolism
  • temperature response
  • soil warming
  • grassland soil
  • RNA
  • seasonal temperature changes
  • Iceland
  • protein biosynthesis
  • microbial physiology
  • DNA
  • forest soil

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