Articles | Volume 11, issue 4
Biogeosciences, 11, 915–927, 2014
Biogeosciences, 11, 915–927, 2014

Research article 20 Feb 2014

Research article | 20 Feb 2014

Modelling microbial exchanges between forms of soil nitrogen in contrasting ecosystems

M. Pansu1, D. Machado2, P. Bottner3, and L. Sarmiento4 M. Pansu et al.
  • 1IRD, UMR Eco&Sol (Supagro, Cirad, Inra, IRD), Place Viala, Montpellier, France
  • 2Laboratorio de Investigación en Análisis Químico Industrial y Agropecuario, Departamento de Química, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela
  • 3CEFE-CNRS, Montpellier, France
  • 4Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Ecológicas, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela

Abstract. Although nitrogen (N) is often combined with carbon (C) in organic molecules, C passes from the air to the soil through plant photosynthesis, whereas N passes from the soil to plants through a chain of microbial conversions. However, dynamic models do not fully consider the microorganisms at the centre of exchange processes between organic and mineral forms of N. This study monitored the transfer of 14C and 15N between plant materials, microorganisms, humified compartments, and inorganic forms in six very different ecosystems along an altitudinal transect. The microbial conversions of the 15N forms appear to be strongly linked to the previously modelled C cycle, and the same equations and parameters can be used to model both C and N cycles. The only difference is in the modelling of the flows between microbial and inorganic forms. The processes of mineralization and immobilization of N appear to be regulated by a two-way microbial exchange depending on the C : N ratios of microorganisms and available substrates. The MOMOS (Modelling of Organic Matter of Soils) model has already been validated for the C cycle and also appears to be valid for the prediction of microbial transformations of N forms. This study shows that the hypothesis of microbial homeostasis can give robust predictions at global scale. However, the microbial populations did not appear to always be independent of the external constraints. At some altitudes their C : N ratio could be better modelled as decreasing during incubation and increasing with increasing C storage in cold conditions. The ratio of potentially mineralizable-15N/inorganic-15N and the 15N stock in the plant debris and the microorganisms was modelled as increasing with altitude, whereas the 15N storage in stable humus was modelled as decreasing with altitude. This predicts that there is a risk that mineralization of organic reserves in cold areas may increase global warming.

Final-revised paper