Substrate quality alters the microbial mineralization of added substrate and soil organic carbon
- 1Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA
- 2Climate Change Science Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA
- 3Biosciences division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA
- 4Department of Biological Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County, Baraboo, WI 53913, USA
- 5Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA
Abstract. The rate and extent of decomposition of soil organic carbon (SOC) is dependent, among other factors, on substrate chemistry and microbial dynamics. Our objectives were to understand the influence of substrate chemistry on microbial decomposition of carbon (C), and to use model fitting to quantify differences in pool sizes and mineralization rates. We conducted an incubation experiment for 270 days using four uniformly labeled 14C substrates (glucose, starch, cinnamic acid and stearic acid) on four different soils (a temperate Mollisol, a tropical Ultisol, a sub-arctic Andisol, and an arctic Gelisol). The 14C labeling enabled us to separate CO2 respired from added substrates and from native SOC. Microbial gene copy numbers were quantified at days 4, 30 and 270 using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Substrate C respiration was always higher for glucose than other substrates. Soils with cinnamic and stearic acid lost more native SOC than glucose- and starch-amended soils. Cinnamic and stearic acid amendments also exhibited higher fungal gene copy numbers at the end of incubation compared to unamended soils. We found that 270 days were sufficient to model the decomposition of simple substrates (glucose and starch) with three pools, but were insufficient for more complex substrates (cinnamic and stearic acid) and native SOC. This study reveals that substrate quality exerts considerable control on the microbial decomposition of newly added and native SOC, and demonstrates the need for multi-year incubation experiments to constrain decomposition parameters for the most recalcitrant fractions of SOC and complex substrates.