Chronic Warming and Nitrogen-Addition Alter Soil Organic Matter Molecular Composition Distinctly in Tandem Compared to Individual Stressors


Forest soils are major reservoirs of carbon (C), but these stores are threatened by increasing global temperatures and atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. These environmental stressors can alter soil microbial communities and soil organic matter (SOM) biogeochemistry through a variety of mechanisms. To investigate the impact of chronic warming, N-addition, and simultaneous warming and N-addition (warming + N) on forest soils, soil samples from the Harvard Forest Soil Warming and Nitrogen Addition (SWaN) experiment were analyzed after 14 years. Elemental analysis, targeted compound analysis by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry, and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy were used to analyze changes in SOM in both the organic and mineral (0–10 cm) soil layers. Overall, changes in the molecular composition and microbial biomass were observed, but the extent of differences was unique to warming, N-addition, and warming + N treatments. Specifically, N-addition slowed SOM decomposition as measured via solid-state 13C NMR, while warming and warming + N accelerated SOM decomposition. Continued SOM decomposition after 14 years with warming + N signified a pronounced change to observations made after 4 and 10 years of experimental treatment. This is also demonstrative of how a two-factor approach leads to a unique molecular-level response that cannot be predicted from experiments with individual stressors alone. This study emphasizes the need to observe environmental stressors in tandem using a combination of molecular-level approaches to obtain a comprehensive understanding of how persistent anthropogenic activity will fundamentally alter forest soil systems.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology; Natural Resources and the Environment

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ACS Earth and Space Chemistry


ACS Publications

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