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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2023
  2. 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.

  3. Primary production is the fundamental source of energy to foodwebs and ecosystems, and is thus an important constraint on soil communities. This coupling is particularly evident in polar terrestrial ecosystems where biological diversity and activity is tightly constrained by edaphic gradients of productivity (e.g., soil moisture, organic carbon availability) and geochemical severity (e.g., pH, electrical conductivity). In the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, environmental gradients determine numerous properties of soil communities and yet relatively few estimates of gross or net primary productivity (GPP, NPP) exist for this region. Here we describe a survey utilizing pulse amplitude modulation (PAM) fluorometry to estimate rates of GPP across a broad environmental gradient along with belowground microbial diversity and decomposition. PAM estimates of GPP ranged from an average of 0.27 μmol O 2 /m 2 /s in the most arid soils to an average of 6.97 μmol O 2 /m 2 /s in the most productive soils, the latter equivalent to 217 g C/m 2 /y in annual NPP assuming a 60 day growing season. A diversity index of four carbon-acquiring enzyme activities also increased with soil productivity, suggesting that the diversity of organic substrates in mesic environments may be an additional driver ofmore »microbial diversity. Overall, soil productivity was a stronger predictor of microbial diversity and enzymatic activity than any estimate of geochemical severity. These results highlight the fundamental role of environmental gradients to control community diversity and the dynamics of ecosystem-scale carbon pools in arid systems.« less