Influence of dry–wet cycles on the interrelationship between aggregate, particulate organic matter, and microbial community dynamics


Aggregate dynamics and their relationship to the microbial community have been suggested as key factors controlling SOM dynamics. Dry–wet (DW) cycles are thought to enhance aggregate turnover and decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM), particularly in tilled soils. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of DW cycles on aggregate stability, SOM dynamics, and fungal and bacterial populations in a Weld silt loam soil (Aridic Paleustoll). Samples, taken from 250 μm sieved air-dried soil (i.e. free of macroaggregates > 250 μm), were incubated with 13C-labeled wheat residue. In one set of soil samples, fungal growth was suppressed using a fungicide (Captan) in order to discern the effect of dry–wet cycles on fungal and bacterial populations. Aggregate formation was followed during the first 14 d of incubation. After this period, one set of soil samples was subjected to four DW cycles, whereas another set, as a control, was kept at field capacity (FC). Over 74 d, total and wheat-derived respiration, size distribution of water stable aggregates and fungal and bacterial biomass were measured. We determined native and labeled C dynamics of three particulate organic matter (POM) fractions related to soil structure: the free light fraction (LF), and the coarse (250–2000 μm) and fine (53–250 μm) intra-aggregate POM fraction (iPOM). In the fungicide treated soil samples, fungal growth was significantly reduced and no large macroaggregates (> 2 mm) were formed, whereas without addition of fungicide, fungi represented the largest part of the microbial biomass (66%) and 30% of the soil dry weight was composed of large macroaggregates. During macroaggregate formation, labeled free LF-C significantly decreased whereas labeled coarse iPOM-C increased, indicating that macroggregates are formed around fresh wheat residue (free LF), which is consequently incorporated and becomes coarse iPOM. The first drying and wetting event reduced the amount of large macroaggregates from 30 to 21% of the total soil weight. However, macroaggregates became slake-resistant after two dry-wet cycles. Fine iPOM-C was significantly lower in soil after two dry–wet cycles compared to soil kept at FC. We conclude that more coarse iPOM is decomposed into fine iPOM in macroaggregates not exposed to DW cycles due to a slower macroaggregate turnover. In addition, when macroaggregates, subjected to dry–wet cycles, became slake-resistant (d 44) and consequently macroaggregate turnover decreased, fine iPOM accumulated. In conclusion, differences in fine iPOM accumulation in DW vs. control macroaggregates are attributed to differences in macroaggregate turnover.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

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Soil Biology and Biochemistry



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© 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.