Microbial control of soil organic matter mineralization responses to labile carbon in subarctic climate change treatments

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Half the global soil carbon (C) is held in high-latitude systems. Climate change will expose these to warming and a shift towards plant communities with more labile C input. Labile C can also increase the rate of loss of native soil organic matter (SOM); a phenomenon termed ‘priming’. We investigated how warming (+1.1 °C over ambient using open top chambers) and litter addition (90 g m−2 yr−1) treatments in the subarctic influenced the susceptibility of SOM mineralization to priming, and its microbial underpinnings. Labile C appeared to inhibit the mineralization of C from SOM by up to 60% within hours. In contrast, the mineralization of N from SOM was stimulated by up to 300%. These responses occurred rapidly and were unrelated to microbial successional dynamics, suggesting catabolic responses. Considered separately, the labile C inhibited C mineralization is compatible with previously reported findings termed ‘preferential substrate utilization’ or ‘negative apparent priming’, while the stimulated N mineralization responses echo recent reports of ‘real priming’ of SOM mineralization. However, C and N mineralization responses derived from the same SOM source must be interpreted together: This suggested that the microbial SOM-use decreased in magnitude and shifted to components richer in N. This finding highlights that only considering SOM in terms of C may be simplistic, and will not capture all changes in SOM decomposition. The selective mining for N increased in climate change treatments with higher fungal dominance. In conclusion, labile C appeared to trigger catabolic responses of the resident microbial community that shifted the SOM mining to N-rich components; an effect that increased with higher fungal dominance. Extrapolating from these findings, the predicted shrub expansion in the subarctic could result in an altered microbial use of SOM, selectively mining it for N-rich components, and leading to a reduced total SOM-use.

Details

Authors
Organisations
External organisations
  • University of Copenhagen
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology
  • Microbiology

Keywords

  • bacterial growth, biogeochemistry, fungal growth, microbial ecology, nitrogen cycling, nitrogen limitation, soil carbon sequestration, the priming effect
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4150-4161
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Volume22
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec 1
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes