22 Feb 2022
22 Feb 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Climate and geology overwrite land use effects on soil organic nitrogen cycling on a continental scale

Lisa Noll1,2, Shasha Zhang1, Qing Zheng1, Yuntao Hu1,3, Florian Hofhansl4, and Wolfgang Wanek1 Lisa Noll et al.
  • 1Division of Terrestrial Ecosystem Research, Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science, Center of Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  • 2German Environment Agency, Dessau-Rosslau, Germany
  • 3Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, USA
  • 4International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria

Abstract. Soil fertility and plant productivity are globally constrained by N availability. Proteins are the largest N reservoir in soils and the cleavage of proteins into small peptides and amino acids has been shown to be the rate limiting step in the terrestrial N cycle. However, we are still lacking a profound understanding of the environmental controls of this process. Here we show that integrated effects of climate and soil geochemistry drive protein cleavage across large scales. We measured gross protein depolymerization rates in mineral and organic soils sampled across a 4000-km-long European transect covering a wide range of climates, geologies and land uses. Based on structural equation models we identified that soil organic N cycling was strongly controlled by substrate availability e.g. by soil protein content. Soil geochemistry was a secondary predictor by controlling protein stabilization mechanisms and protein availability. Precipitation was identified as the main climatic control on protein depolymerization by affecting soil weathering and soil organic matter accumulation. In contrast, land use was a poor predictor of protein depolymerization. Our results highlight the need to consider geology and precipitation effects on soil geochemistry when estimating and predicting soil N cycling at large scales.

Lisa Noll et al.

Status: open (extended)

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  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2022-41', Anonymous Referee #1, 10 Mar 2022 reply

Lisa Noll et al.

Lisa Noll et al.


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Short summary
Cleavage of proteins to smaller nitrogen compounds allows microorganisms and plants to exploit the largest nitrogen reservoir in soils and is considered the bottleneck in soil organic nitrogen cycling. Results from soils covering a European transect show that protein turnover is constrained by soil geochemistry, shifts in climate and associated alterations in soil weathering and should be considered as driver of soil nitrogen availability with repercussions on carbon cycle processes.