11 Feb 2016
 | 11 Feb 2016
Status: this discussion paper is a preprint. It has been under review for the journal Biogeosciences (BG). The manuscript was not accepted for further review after discussion.

Which are important soil parameters influencing the spatial heterogeneity of 14C in soil organic matter?

Stephan John, Gerrit Angst, Kristina Kirfel, Sebastian Preusser, Carsten W. Mueller, Christoph Leuschner, Ellen Kandeler, and Janet Rethemeyer

Abstract. Radiocarbon (14C) analysis is an important tool that can provide information on the dynamics of organic matter in soils. Radiocarbon concentrations of soil organic matter (SOM) however, reflect the heterogeneous mixture of various organic compounds and are affected by different chemical, biological, and physical soil parameters. These parameters can vary strongly in soil profiles and thus affect the spatial distribution of the apparent 14C age of SOM considerably. The heterogeneity of SOM and its 14C signature may be even larger in subsoil horizons, which are thought to receive organic carbon inputs following preferential pathways. This will bias conclusions drawn from 14C analyses of individual soil profiles considerably. We thus investigated important soil parameters, which may influence the 14C distribution of SOM as well as the spatial heterogeneity of 14C distributions in soil profiles. The suspected strong heterogeneity and spatial variability, respectively of bulk SOM is confirmed by the variable 14C distribution in three 185 cm deep profiles in a Dystric Cambisol. The 14C contents are most variable in the C horizons because of large differences in the abundance of roots there. The distribution of root biomass and necromass and its organic carbon input is the most important factor affecting the 14C distribution of bulk SOM. The distance of the soil profiles to a beech did not influence the horizontal and vertical distribution of roots and 14C concentrations. Other parameters were found to be of minor importance including microbial biomass-derived carbon and soil texture. The microbial biomass however, may promote a faster turnover of SOM at hot spots resulting in lower 14C concentration there. Soil texture had no statistically significant influence on the spatial 14C distribution of bulk SOM. However, SOM in fine silt and clay sized particles (< 6.3 µm) yields slightly higher 14C concentrations than bulk SOM particularly at greater soil depth, which is in contrast to previous studies where silt and clay fractions contained older SOM stabilized by organo-mineral interaction. 14C contents of fine silt and clay correlate with the microbial biomass-derived carbon suggesting a considerable contribution of microbial-derived organic carbon. In conclusion, 14C analyses of bulk SOM mainly reflect the spatial distribution of roots, which is strongly variable even on a small spatial scale of few meters. This finding should be considered when using 14C analysis to determine SOM.

Stephan John et al.

Status: closed
Status: closed
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Printer-friendly Version - Printer-friendly version Supplement - Supplement
Status: closed
Status: closed
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Printer-friendly Version - Printer-friendly version Supplement - Supplement

Stephan John et al.

Stephan John et al.


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Latest update: 25 Mar 2023
Short summary
In this manuscript we investigate chemical, biological and physical soil parameters and their influence on 14C contents and distribution in three nearby soil profiles under beech forest. We found a large heterogeneity in 14C contents in the profiles, mainly caused by the abundance of roots. Our results indicate that 14C analysis of individual soil profiles – as it is done in most studies – may lead to misleading assumptions of SOM turnover in soils when extrapolated on larger areas.