Ecological memory of recurrent drought modifies soil processes via changes in soil microbial community


Climate change is altering the frequency and severity of drought events. Recent evidence indicates that drought may produce legacy effects on soil microbial communities. However, it is unclear whether precedent drought events lead to ecological memory formation, i.e., the capacity of past events to influence current ecosystem response trajectories. Here, we utilize a long-term field experiment in a mountain grassland in central Austria with an experimental layout comparing 10 years of recurrent drought events to a single drought event and ambient conditions. We show that recurrent droughts increase the dissimilarity of microbial communities compared to control and single drought events, and enhance soil multifunctionality during drought (calculated via measurements of potential enzymatic activities, soil nutrients, microbial biomass stoichiometry and belowground net primary productivity). Our results indicate that soil microbial community composition changes in concert with its functioning, with consequences for soil processes. The formation of ecological memory in soil under recurrent drought may enhance the resilience of ecosystem functioning against future drought events.