Decoupling of priming and microbial N mining during a short-term soil incubation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) availability depend on the breakdown of soil polymers such as lignin, chitin, and protein that represent the major fraction of soil C and N but are too large for immediate uptake by plants and microorganisms. Microorganisms may adjust the production of enzymes targeting different polymers to optimize the balance between C and N availability and demand, and for instance increase the depolymerization of N-rich compounds when C availability is high and N availability low (“microbial N mining”). Such a mechanism could mitigate plant N limitation but also lie behind a stimulation of soil respiration frequently observed in the vicinity of plant roots (“priming effect”). We here compared the effect of increased C and N availability on the depolymerization of native bulk soil organic matter (SOM), and of 13C-enriched lignin, chitin, and protein added to the same soil in two complementary ten day microcosm incubation experiments. A significant reduction of chitin depolymerization (described by the recovery of chitin-derived C in the sum of dissolved organic, microbial and respired C) upon N addition indicated that chitin was degraded to serve as a microbial N source under low-N conditions and replaced in the presence of an immediately available alternative. Protein and lignin depolymerization in contrast were not affected by N addition. Carbon addition enhanced microbial N demand and SOM decomposition rates, but significantly reduced lignin, chitin, and protein depolymerization. Our findings contrast the hypothesis of increased microbial N mining as a key driver behind the priming effect and rather suggest that C addition promoted the mobilization of other soil C pools that replaced lignin, chitin, and protein as microbial C sources, for instance by releasing soil compounds from mineral bonds. We conclude that SOM decomposition is interactively controlled by multiple mechanisms including the balance between C vs N availability. Disentangling these controls will be crucial for understanding C and N cycling on an ecosystem scale.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of Gothenburg
  • Stockholm University
  • Western Sydney University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Geochemistry

Keywords

  • Chitin, Decomposition, Extracellular enzymes, Lignin, Phospholipid fatty acids, Protein
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Volume129
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes