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  1. Abstract

    Conceptual and empirical advances in soil biogeochemistry have challenged long-held assumptions about the role of soil micro-organisms in soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics; yet, rigorous tests of emerging concepts remain sparse. Recent hypotheses suggest that microbial necromass production links plant inputs to SOC accumulation, with high-quality (i.e., rapidly decomposing) plant litter promoting microbial carbon use efficiency, growth, and turnover leading to more mineral stabilization of necromass. We test this hypothesis experimentally and with observations across six eastern US forests, using stable isotopes to measure microbial traits and SOC dynamics. Here we show, in both studies, that microbial growth, efficiency, and turnover are negatively (not positively) related to mineral-associated SOC. In the experiment, stimulation of microbial growth by high-quality litter enhances SOC decomposition, offsetting the positive effect of litter quality on SOC stabilization. We suggest that microbial necromass production is not the primary driver of SOC persistence in temperate forests. Factors such as microbial necromass origin, alternative SOC formation pathways, priming effects, and soil abiotic properties can strongly decouple microbial growth, efficiency, and turnover from mineral-associated SOC.

  2. null (Ed.)
  3. Abstract A longstanding assumption of glucose tracing experiments is that all glucose is microbially utilized during short incubations of ≤2 days to become microbial biomass or carbon dioxide. Carbon use efficiency (CUE) estimates have consequently ignored the formation of residues (non-living microbial products) although such materials could represent an important sink of glucose that is prone to stabilization as soil organic matter. We examined the dynamics of microbial residue formation from a short tracer experiment with frequent samplings over 72 h, and conducted a meta-analysis of previously published glucose tracing studies to assess the generality of these experimental results. Both our experiment and meta-analysis indicated 30–34% of amended glucose-C ( 13 C or 14 C) was in the form of residues within the first 6 h of substrate addition. We expand the conventional efficiency calculation to include residues in both the numerator and denominator of efficiency, thereby deriving a novel metric of the potential persistence of glucose-C in soil as living microbial biomass plus residues (‘carbon stabilization efficiency’). This new metric indicates nearly 40% of amended glucose-C persists in soil 180 days after amendment, the majority as non-biomass residues. Starting microbial biomass and clay content emerge as critical factors that positively promote such longmore »term stabilization of labile C. Rapid residue production supports the conclusion that non-growth maintenance activity can illicit high demands for C in soil, perhaps equaling that directed towards growth, and that residues may have an underestimated role in the cycling and sequestration potential of C in soil.« less
  4. Inhabiting the interface between plant roots and soil, mycorrhizal fungi play a unique but underappreciated role in soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics. Their hyphae provide an efficient mechanism for distributing plant carbon throughout the soil, facilitating its deposition into soil pores and onto mineral surfaces, where it can be protected from microbial attack. Mycorrhizal exudates and dead tissues contribute to the microbial necromass pool now known to play a dominant role in SOM formation and stabilization. While mycorrhizal fungi lack the genetic capacity to act as saprotrophs, they use several strategies to access nutrients locked in SOM and thereby promote its decay, including direct enzymatic breakdown, oxidation via Fenton chemistry, and stimulation of heterotrophic microorganisms through carbon provision to the rhizosphere. An additional mechanism, competition with free-living saprotrophs, potentially suppresses SOM decomposition, leading to its accumulation. How these various nutrient acquisition strategies differentially influence SOM formation, stabilization, and loss is an area of critical research need.