Molecular complexity and diversity of persistent soil organic matter


Managing and increasing organic matter in soil requires greater understanding of the mechanisms driving its persistence through resistance to microbial decomposition. Conflicting evidence exists for whether persistent soil organic matter (SOM) is molecularly complex and diverse. As such, this study used a novel application of graph networks with pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to quantify the complexity and diversity of persistent SOM, defined as SOM that persists through time (soil radiocarbon age) and soil depth. We analyzed soils from the Cooloola giant podzol chronosequence across a large gradient of soil depths (0–15 m) and SOM radiocarbon ages (modern to 19,000 years BP). We found that the most persistent SOM on this gradient was highly aromatic and had the lowest molecular complexity and diversity. By contrast, fresh surface SOM had higher molecular complexity and diversity, with high contributions of plant-derived lignins and polysaccharides. These findings indicate that persisting SOM declines in molecular complexity and diversity over geological timescales and soil depths, with aromatic SOM compounds persisting longer with mineral association.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Soil Biology and Biochemistry



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