Articles | Volume 12, issue 20
Research article
19 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 19 Oct 2015

Microbial carbon recycling – an underestimated process controlling soil carbon dynamics – Part 1: A long-term laboratory incubation experiment

A. Basler, M. Dippold, M. Helfrich, and J. Dyckmans

Abstract. Independent of its chemical structure carbon (C) persists in soil for several decades, controlled by stabilization and recycling. To disentangle the importance of the two factors on the turnover dynamics of soil sugars, an important compound of soil organic matter (SOM), a 3-year incubation experiment was conducted on a silty loam soil under different types of land use (arable land, grassland and forest) by adding 13C-labelled glucose. The compound-specific isotope analysis of soil sugars was used to examine the dynamics of different sugars during incubation.

Sugar dynamics were dominated by a pool of high mean residence times (MRT) indicating that recycling plays an important role for sugars. However, this was not substantially affected by soil C content. Six months after label addition the contribution of the label was much higher for microbial biomass than for CO2 production for all examined land use types, corroborating that substrate recycling was very effective within the microbial biomass. Two different patterns of tracer dynamics could be identified for different sugars: while fucose and mannose showed highest label contribution at the beginning of the incubation with a subsequent slow decline, galactose and rhamnose were characterized by slow label incorporation with subsequently constant levels, which indicates that recycling is dominating the dynamics of these sugars. This may correspond to (a) different microbial growing strategies (r and K-strategist) or (b) location within or outside the cell membrane (lipopolysaccharides vs. exopolysaccharides) and thus be subject of different re-use within the microbial food web. Our results show how the microbial community recycles substrate very effectively and that high losses of substrate only occur during initial stages after substrate addition. This study indicates that recycling is one of the major processes explaining the high MRT observed for many SOM fractions and thus is crucial for understanding the global soil C cycle.

Final-revised paper