Drying and rewetting conditions differentially affect the mineralization of fresh plant litter and extant soil organic matter

Lopez-Sangil, Luis and Hartley, Iain P. and Rovira, Pere and Casals, Pere and Sayer, Emma J. (2018) Drying and rewetting conditions differentially affect the mineralization of fresh plant litter and extant soil organic matter. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 124. pp. 81-89. ISSN 0038-0717

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Drought is becoming more common globally and has the potential to alter patterns of soil carbon (C) storage in terrestrial ecosystems. After an extended dry period, a pulse of soil CO2 release is commonly observed upon rewetting (the so-called ‘Birch effect’), the magnitude of which depends on soil rewetting frequency. But the source and implications of this CO2 efflux are unclear. We used a mesocosm field experiment to subject agricultural topsoil to two distinct drying and rewetting frequencies, measuring Birch effects (as 3-day cumulative CO2 efflux upon rewetting) and the overall CO2 efflux over the entire drying-rewetting cycle. We used 14C-labelled wheat straw to determine the contribution of fresh (recently incorporated) plant litter or extant soil organic matter (SOM) to these fluxes, and assessed the extent to which the amount of soil microbial biomass + K2SO4-extractable organic C (fumigated-extracted C, FEC) before rewetting determined the magnitude of Birch effect CO2 pulses. Our results showed a gradual increase in SOM-derived organic solutes within the FEC fraction, and a decrease in soil microbial biomass, under more extreme drying and rewetting conditions. But, contrary to our hypothesis, pre-wetting levels of FEC were not related to the magnitude of the Birch effects. In the longer term, rewetting frequency and temperature influenced the overall (31-day cumulative) amount of CO2–C released from SOM upon rewetting, but the overall 14CO2–C respired from fresh straw was only influenced by the rewetting frequency, with no effect of seasonal temperature differences of ∼15 °C. We conclude that the mineralization of fresh plant litter in soils is more sensitive to water limitations than extant SOM in soils under drying-rewetting conditions. Moreover, we found little evidence to support the hypothesis that the availability of microbial and soluble organic C before rewetting determined the magnitude of the Birch effects, and suggest that future work should investigate whether these short-term CO2 pulses are predominantly derived from substrate-supply mechanisms resulting from the disruption of the soil organo-mineral matrix.

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Journal Article
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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
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This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Soil Biology and Biochemistry. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 124, 2018 DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.06.001
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11 Jun 2018 11:04
Last Modified:
16 Sep 2023 01:42