Soil Microorganisms: key factors affect distribution, activity and population
Authors: Rajendra Kumar Yadav and Malu Ram Yadav, Mahendra Kumar Yadav
PhD. Scholar, Division of Soil Science and Agricultural chemistry, ICAR-IARI, New Delhi-110012

Introduction: Soil microorganisms (Flora & Fauna), just like higher plants depends entirely on soil for their nutrition, growth and activity. The major soil factors which influence the microbial population, distribution and their activity in the soil. Some factors play a great role in determining not only the number and type of organism but also their activities. Variations in any one or more of these factors may lead to the changes in the activity of the organisms which ultimately affect the soil fertility level. Brief account of all these factors influencing soil micro flora / organisms and their activities is activities are discussed paragraphs.

1. Cultural practices (Tillage): Cultural practices viz. cultivation, crop rotation, application of manures and fertilizers, liming and gypsum application, pesticide/fungicide and weedicide application have their effect on soil organism. Ploughing and tillage operations facilitate aeration in soil and exposure of soil to sunshine and thereby increase the biological activity of organisms, particularly of bacteria. Crop rotation with legume maintains the favorable microbial population balance, particularly of N2 fixing bacteria and thereby improve soil fertility.Liming of acid soils increases activity of bacteria and actinomycetes and lowers the fungal population.

2. Soil fertility: Fertility level of the soil has a great influence on the microbial population and their activity in soil. The availability of N, P and K required for plants as well as microbes in soil determines the fertility level of soil. On the other hand soil micro flora has greater influence on the soil fertility level.

3. Soil moisture: Water (soil moisture) is useful to the microorganisms in two ways i.e. it serve as source of nutrients and supplies hydrogen / oxygen to the organisms and it serve as solvent and carrier of other food nutrients to the microorganisms. Microbial activity & population proliferate best in the moisture range of 20% to 60%. Under water logged conditions due to lack of soil aeration anaerobic microflora become active and the aerobes get suppressed. While in the absence of adequate moisture in soil, some of microbes die out due to tissue dehydration and some of them change their forms into resting stages spores or cysts and tide over adverse conditions.

4. Soil temperature: Temperature directly affects the activity of the soil biota by determining the rate of physiological activity such as enzyme activity and indirectly by affecting physico-chemical properties such as diffusion & solubility of nutrients, mineral weathering and evaporation rates and so on. With in defined limits biological activity increases with increasing temperature. For common soil organisms the temperature range at which they can be active ranges from about 0°C to about 60 °C although no single species is likely to be active throughout the entire range.

5. Soil air (Aeration): For the growth of microorganisms better aeration (oxygen and sometimes CO2) in the soil is essential. Microbes consume oxygen from soil air and gives out carbon dioxide. Depending upon oxygen requirements, soil microorganisms are grouped into categories viz aerobic (require oxygen for like processes), anaerobic (do not require oxygen) and microaerophilic (requiring low concentration of oxygen).

6. Light: Direct sunlight is highly injurious to most of the microorganisms except algae. Therefore upper portion of the surface soil a centimeter or less is usually sterile or devoid of microorganisms. Effect of sunlight is due to heating and increase in temperature (More than 45°).

7. Soil pH: Organisms can tolerate extremes but this normally requires the cell to use energy in maintaining the correct internal cellular pH (pH 7.0).Soil reaction has a definite influence on quantitative and qualitative composite on of soil microbes. Most of the soil bacteria, blue-green algae, diatoms and protozoa prefer a neutral or slightly alkaline reaction between pH 4.5 and 8.0 and fungi grow in acidic reaction between pH 4.5 and 6.5 while actinomycetes prefer slightly alkaline soil reactions. Soil reactions also influence the type of the bacteria present in soil.

8. Soil Organic Matter: The organic matter in soil being the chief source of energy and food for most of the soil organisms, it has great influence on the microbial population. Organic matter influence directly or indirectly on the population and activity of soil microorganisms. It influences the structure and texture of soil and thereby activity of the microorganisms.

9. Food and energy supply: Almost all microorganisms obtain their food and energy from the plant residues or organic matter / substances added to the soil. Energy is required for the metabolic activities of microorganisms. The heterotrophs utilize the energy liberated during the oxidation of complex organic compounds in soil, while autotrophs meet their energy requirement form oxidation of simple inorganic compounds (chemoautotroph) or from solar radiation (Photoautotroph). The organic matter, therefore serves both as a source of food nutrients as well as energy required by the soil organisms.

10. Nature of Soil: The physical, chemical and physico-chemical nature of soil and its nutrient status influence the microbial population both quantitatively and qualitatively. The soils in good chemical nature and physical condition have better aeration and moisture content which is essential for optimum microbial activity. Similarly nutrients (macro and micro) and organic constituents of humus are responsible for absence or presence of certain type of microorganisms and their activity.

11. Microbial interactions: The association existing between one organism and another whether of symbiotic or antagonistic influences the population and activity of soil microbes to a great extent. The predatory habit of protozoa and some mycobacteria which feed on bacteria may suppress or eliminate certain bacteria. For instance organic acids liberated by fungi, increase in oxygen by the activity of algae, change in soil reaction etc. favours the activity or bacteria and other organisms in soil.

Root Exudates: In the soil where plants are growing the root exudates also affects the distribution, density and activity of soil microorganism. Root exudates and sloughed off material of root surfaces provide an abundant source of energy and nutrients and thus directly or indirectly influence the quality as well as quantity of microorganisms in the rhizosphere region. Root exudates contain sugars, organic acids, amino acids, sterols, vitamins and other growth factors which have the profound effect on soil microbes.

About Author / Additional Info:
Ph.D Scholar, Division of Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry, IARI New Delhi ,India