Articles | Volume 12, issue 23
Research article
08 Dec 2015
Research article |  | 08 Dec 2015

Autotrophic fixation of geogenic CO2 by microorganisms contributes to soil organic matter formation and alters isotope signatures in a wetland mofette

M. E. Nowak, F. Beulig, J. von Fischer, J. Muhr, K. Küsel, and S. E. Trumbore

Abstract. To quantify the contribution of autotrophic microorganisms to organic matter (OM) formation in soils, we investigated natural CO2 vents (mofettes) situated in a wetland in northwest Bohemia (Czech Republic). Mofette soils had higher soil organic matter (SOM) concentrations than reference soils due to restricted decomposition under high CO2 levels. We used radiocarbon (Δ14C) and stable carbon (δ13C) isotope ratios to characterize SOM and its sources in two mofettes and compared it with respective reference soils, which were not influenced by geogenic CO2.

The geogenic CO2 emitted at these sites is free of radiocarbon and enriched in 13C compared to atmospheric CO2. Together, these isotopic signals allow us to distinguish C fixed by plants from C fixed by autotrophic microorganisms using their differences in 13C discrimination. We can then estimate that up to 27 % of soil organic matter in the 0–10 cm layer of these soils was derived from microbially assimilated CO2.

Isotope values of bulk SOM were shifted towards more positive δ13C and more negative Δ14C values in mofettes compared to reference soils, suggesting that geogenic CO2 emitted from the soil atmosphere is incorporated into SOM. To distinguish whether geogenic CO2 was fixed by plants or by CO2 assimilating microorganisms, we first used the proportional differences in radiocarbon and δ13C values to indicate the magnitude of discrimination of the stable isotopes in living plants. Deviation from this relationship was taken to indicate the presence of microbial CO2 fixation, as microbial discrimination should differ from that of plants. 13CO2-labelling experiments confirmed high activity of CO2 assimilating microbes in the top 10 cm, where δ13C values of SOM were shifted up to 2 ‰ towards more negative values. Uptake rates of microbial CO2 fixation ranged up to 1.59 ± 0.16 μg gdw−1 d−1. We inferred that the negative δ13C shift was caused by the activity of autotrophic microorganisms using the Calvin–Benson–Bassham (CBB) cycle, as indicated from quantification of cbbL/cbbM marker genes encoding for RubisCO by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and by acetogenic and methanogenic microorganisms, shown present in the mofettes by previous studies. Combined Δ14C and δ13C isotope mass balances indicated that microbially derived carbon accounted for 8–27 % of bulk SOM in this soil layer.

The findings imply that autotrophic microorganisms can recycle significant amounts of carbon in wetland soils and might contribute to observed radiocarbon reservoir effects influencing Δ14C signatures in peat deposits.

Short summary
Microorganisms have been recognized as an important source of soil organic matter (SOM). Autotrophic microorganisms utilize CO2 instead of organic carbon. Microbial CO2 fixation is accompanied with high 13C isotope discrimination. Because autotrophs are abundant in soils, they might be a significant factor influencing 13C signatures of SOM. Thus, it is important to asses the importance of autotrophs for C isotope signatures in soils, in order to use isotopes as a tracer for soil C dynamics.
Final-revised paper