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Root litter decomposition slows with soil depth


Hicks Pries, Caitlin E; Sulman, Benjamin N; West, Corinna; O'Neill, Caitlin; Poppleton, Erik; Porras, Rachel C; Castanha, Cristina; Zhu, Biao; Wiedemeier, Daniel B; Torn, Margaret S (2018). Root litter decomposition slows with soil depth. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 125:103-114.

Abstract

Even though over half of the world's soil organic carbon (SOC) is stored in subsoils (> 20 cm deep), and the old ages of subsoil OC indicate its cycling differs from surface SOC, there are few studies examining in situ decomposition processes in deep soils. Here, we added 13C-labeled fine roots to 15, 55, and 95 cm depths of a well characterized coniferous forest Alfisol and monitored the amount of root-derived C remaining over 6, 12, and 30 months. We recovered the root-derived C in microbial phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) after 6 months and in coarse (> 2 mm) particulate, fine (< 2 mm) particulate, and dense, mineral-associated pools after 6, 12, and 30 months. Overall, root decomposition in the first 6 months was similar among all depths but significantly diverged at 30 months with faster decomposition at 15 cm than at 95 cm. There were more fungal and Gram negative-associated PLFAs at 15 cm than at 95 cm, and 13C analysis revealed those microbial groups preferred the added root carbon to native SOC. Mineral-associations were not the cause of slower decomposition at depth because similar amounts of applied root C was recovered in the dense fraction at all depths. The largest difference among depths was in the amount of root C recovered in the coarse particulate fraction, which was greater at 95 cm (50%) than at 15 cm (15%). Slower decomposition of the particulate pool at depth likely contributed to the increase in C:N ratios and depletion of δ13C values below 60 cm depth in our soil profiles. Simulations of these soils using the CORPSE model, which incorporates microbial priming effects and mineral stabilization of SOC, reproduced patterns of particulate and mineral-associated SOC over both time and depth and suggested that a lack of priming by root exudates at depth could account for the slower decomposition rate of particulate root material. Decomposition of deep particulate SOC may increase if root exudation or dissolved OC transport to depth increases.

Abstract

Even though over half of the world's soil organic carbon (SOC) is stored in subsoils (> 20 cm deep), and the old ages of subsoil OC indicate its cycling differs from surface SOC, there are few studies examining in situ decomposition processes in deep soils. Here, we added 13C-labeled fine roots to 15, 55, and 95 cm depths of a well characterized coniferous forest Alfisol and monitored the amount of root-derived C remaining over 6, 12, and 30 months. We recovered the root-derived C in microbial phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) after 6 months and in coarse (> 2 mm) particulate, fine (< 2 mm) particulate, and dense, mineral-associated pools after 6, 12, and 30 months. Overall, root decomposition in the first 6 months was similar among all depths but significantly diverged at 30 months with faster decomposition at 15 cm than at 95 cm. There were more fungal and Gram negative-associated PLFAs at 15 cm than at 95 cm, and 13C analysis revealed those microbial groups preferred the added root carbon to native SOC. Mineral-associations were not the cause of slower decomposition at depth because similar amounts of applied root C was recovered in the dense fraction at all depths. The largest difference among depths was in the amount of root C recovered in the coarse particulate fraction, which was greater at 95 cm (50%) than at 15 cm (15%). Slower decomposition of the particulate pool at depth likely contributed to the increase in C:N ratios and depletion of δ13C values below 60 cm depth in our soil profiles. Simulations of these soils using the CORPSE model, which incorporates microbial priming effects and mineral stabilization of SOC, reproduced patterns of particulate and mineral-associated SOC over both time and depth and suggested that a lack of priming by root exudates at depth could account for the slower decomposition rate of particulate root material. Decomposition of deep particulate SOC may increase if root exudation or dissolved OC transport to depth increases.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:30 Aug 2018 09:33
Last Modified:24 Sep 2019 23:35
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0038-0717
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.07.002

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