Structural diversity and enzyme activity of volcanic soils at different stages of development and response to experimental disturbance

L. Shillam*, D. W. Hopkins, L. Badalucco, V. A. Laudicina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalShort communication peer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated the phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) diversity and enzyme activities in soils from the volcano, Mt. Etna (Sicily). The soils were at sites which have been developing for different periods of time and have formed in volcanic lava of differing ages that have been supplemented with volcanic ejecta from subsequent eruptions. However, the plant communities indicated a marked successional difference between the sites and we have used this as a proxy for developmental stage. We have compared the structural and functional properties of the microbial communities in soils from the two sites and tested experimentally the hypothesis that the more diverse community was more resistant and resilient to disturbance. The experimental disturbance imposed was heating (60 °C for 48 h) and the recovery of enzyme activities (β-glucosidase, acid phosphatase and arylsulfatase) and structural properties (PLFA profiles) were then followed over six months. The microbial community in the soil from the older site was more structurally diverse and had a larger total PLFA concentration before disturbance than that of the soil from the younger site. The older soil community was not more resistant and resilient following an environmental disturbance as the younger soil community was equally or more resistant and resilient for all parameters. Changes in enzyme activities following disturbance were almost entirely attributable to changes in biomass (total PLFA).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2182-2185
Number of pages4
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number9
Publication statusPrint publication - Sept 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Antonio Ioppollo, Riccardo Scalenghe, Giuseppe Lo Papasulla and Marco Meli for field assistance and Lorna English for laboratory assistance. This study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Development
  • Disturbance
  • Enzyme activity
  • PLFA
  • Volcanic


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