Soil microbial diversity in adjacent forest systems - contrasting native, old growth kauri (Agathis australis) forest with exotic pine (Pinus radiata) plantation forest.
Globally, the conversion of primary forests to plantations and agricultural landscapes is a common land use change. Kauri (Agathis australis) is one of the most heavily impacted indigenous tree species of New Zealand with <1% of primary forest remaining as fragments adjacent to pastoral farming and exotic forest plantations. By contrasting two forest systems, we investigated if the fragmentation of kauri forests and introduction of pine plantations (Pinus radiata) are significantly impacting the diversity and composition of soil microbial communities across Waipoua kauri forest, New Zealand. Using next generation based 16S rRNA and ITS gene region sequencing, we identified that fungal and bacterial community composition significantly differed between kauri and pine forest soils. However, fungal communities displayed the largest differences in diversity and composition. This research revealed significant shifts in the soil microbial communities surrounding remnant kauri fragments, including the loss of microbial taxa with functions in disease suppression and plant health. Kauri dieback disease, caused by Phytophthora agathidicida, currently threatens the kauri forest ecosystem. Results from this research highlight the need for further investigations into how changes to soil microbial diversity surrounding remnant kauri fragments impact tree health and disease expression.