Molecular-level changes in soil organic matter composition after 10 years of litter, root and nitrogen manipulation in a temperate forest


With climate change, forests are expected to receive increased inputs of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) but it is unclear how this will modify forest C cycling and storage at the molecular-level. To investigate the response of forest soil organic matter (SOM) to changes in soil inputs, a study area was established in a Michigan hardwood forest as part of the Detrital Input and Removal Treatments (DIRT) network. Experimental treatments were comprised of both exclusions of detrital inputs (No Litter, No Roots, No Inputs) and additions of C and N (Double Litter, N-Addition, Double Litter + N, Wood). After 10 years of treatment, the soils were characterized using elemental analysis, molecular biomarker techniques, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and microbial biomass C measurements. Although manipulation of detrital inputs did not significantly change the soil C and N content after 10 years, alterations in the cycling and distribution of SOM components were observed. Root exclusion enhanced SOM degradation, while doubling litter favoured the degradation of more labile forms of soil C such as unsaturated n-alkanoic acids and simple sugars. N-Addition and Double Litter + N increased the concentrations of extractable biomarkers, including aliphatic and cyclic lipids and compounds derived from cutin, suberin, and lignin. Microbial biomass C also varied with experimental litter input manipulations and N addition, and these data were consistent with the observed changes in SOM composition. Overall, the observed shifts in SOM chemistry after 10 years of manipulating ecosystem inputs highlight the sensitivity of natural systems to changes in amounts of C and N inputs from roots and litter, and N inputs from external sources.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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