Plant n-alkane production from litterfall altered the diversity and community structure of alkane degrading bacteria in litter layer in lowland subtropical rainforest in Taiwan

n-Alkane and alkane-degrading bacteria have long been used as crucial biological indicators of paleoecology, petroleum pollution, and oil and gas prospecting. However, the relationship between n-alkane and alkane-degrading bacteria in natural forests is still poorly understood. In this study, long-chain n-alkane (C14–C35) concentrations in litterfall, litter layer, and topsoil as well as the diversity and abundance of n-alkane-degrading bacterial communities in litter layers were investigated in three habitats across a lowland subtropical rainforest in southern Taiwan: ravine, windward, and leeward habitats in Nanjenshan. Our results demonstrate that the litterfall yield and productivity of long-chain n-alkane were highest in the ravine habitats. However, long-chain n-alkane concentrations in all habitats were decreased drastically to a similar low level from the litterfall to the bulk soil, suggesting a higher rate of long-chain n-alkane degradation in the ravine habitat. Operational taxonomic unit (OTU) analysis using next-generation sequencing data revealed that the relative abundances of microbial communities in the windward and leeward habitats were similar and different from that in the ravine habitat. Data mining of community amplicon sequencing using the NCBI database revealed that alkB-gene-associated bacteria (95 % DNA sequence similarity to alkB-containing bacteria) were most abundant in the ravine habitat. Empirical testing of litter layer samples using semi-quantitative polymerase chain reaction for determining alkB gene levels confirmed that the ravine habitat had higher alkB gene levels than the windward and leeward habitats. Heat map analysis revealed parallels in pattern color between the plant and microbial species compositions of the habitats, suggesting a causal relationship between the plant n-alkane production and microbial community diversity. This finding indicates that the diversity and relative abundance of microbial communities in the litter layer are affected by n-alkane plant composition in the litterfall.

Tung-Yi Huang, Bing-Mu Hsu, Wei-Chun Chao, & Cheng-Wei Fan