Incorporation of shoot versus root-derived 13C and 15N into mineral-associated organic matter fractions: results of a soil slurry incubation with dual-labelled plant material

J. M. Lavallee, R. T. Conant, E. A. Paul, M. F. Cotrufo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM) is a key component of the global carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles, but the processes controlling its formation from plant litter are not well understood. Recent evidence suggests that more MAOM will form from higher quality litters (e.g., those with lower C/N ratios and lower lignocellulose indices), than lower quality litters. Shoots and roots of the same non-woody plant can provide good examples of high and low quality litters, respectively, yet previous work tends to show a majority of soil organic matter is root-derived. We investigated the effect of litter quality on MAOM formation from shoots versus roots using a litter-soil slurry incubation of isotopically labeled (13C and 15N) shoots or roots of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) with isolated silt or clay soil fractions. The slurry method minimized the influence of soil structure and maximized contact between plant material and soil. We tracked the contribution of shoot- and root-derived C and N to newly formed MAOM over 60 days. We found that shoots contributed more C and N to MAOM than roots. The formation of shoot-derived MAOM was also more efficient, meaning that less CO2 was respired per unit MAOM formed. We suggest that these results are driven by initial differences in litter chemistry between the shoot and root material, while results of studies showing a majority of soil organic matter is root-derived may be driven by alternate mechanisms, such as proximity of roots to mineral surfaces, greater contribution of roots to aggregate formation, and root exudation. Across all treatments, newly formed MAOM had a low C/N ratio compared to the parent plant material, which supports the idea that microbial processing of litter is a key pathway of MAOM formation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)379-393
    Number of pages15
    JournalBiogeochemistry
    Volume137
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2018

    Keywords

    • Decomposition
    • Litter quality
    • Microbial respiration
    • Mineral-associated organic matter
    • Soil incubation
    • Soil organic matter

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