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Biological degradation of pyrogenic organic matter in temperate forest soils

Santos, Fernanda, Torn, Margaret S., Bird, Jeffrey A.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2012 v.51 pp. 115-124
fatty acids, temperate forests, clay, carbon dioxide, parents, granite, Pinus ponderosa, soil microorganisms, combustion, mineralogy, process control, ecosystems, ammonium nitrate, mineralization, temperate soils, community structure, microbial communities, soil organic matter, models, wood, microbial biomass, biofuels, biodegradation, bacteria, fungi
Pyrogenic organic matter (PyOM), derived from the incomplete combustion of plant biomass and fossil fuels, has been considered one of the most stable pools of soil organic matter (SOM) and a potentially important terrestrial sink for atmospheric CO₂. Recent evidence suggests that PyOM may degrade faster in soil than previously thought, and can affect native SOM turnover rates. We conducted a six-month laboratory incubation study to better understand the processes controlling the degradation of PyOM in soils using dual-enriched (¹³C/¹⁵N) PyOM and its precursor wood (Pinus ponderosa). We examined the effects of soil type and inorganic N addition on PyOM and wood C and N mineralization rates, microbial C utilization patterns, and native SOM turnover rates. PyOM charred at 450 °C or its precursor pine wood was incubated in two temperate forest subsoils with contrasting short range order (SRO) clay mineralogy (granite versus andesite parent material). Duplicates of experimental treatments with and without PyOM added were sterilized and abiotic C mineralization was quantified. In a second incubation, PyOM or wood was incubated in granitic soil with and without added NH₄NO₃ (20 kg N ha⁻¹). The fate of ¹³C/¹⁵N-enriched PyOM and wood was followed as soil-respired ¹³CO₂ and total extractable inorganic ¹⁵N. The uptake of ¹³C from PyOM and wood by soil microbial community groups was quantified using ¹³C-phospholipids fatty acids (PLFA). We found that (1) The mean residence time (MRT) of PyOM-C was on a centennial time scale (390–600 yr) in both soil types; (2) PyOM-C mineralization was mainly biologically mediated; (3) Fungi more actively utilized wood-C than PyOM-C, which was utilized by all bacteria groups, especially gram (+) bacteria in the andesite (AN) soil; (4) PyOM-N mineralization was 2 times greater in granite (GR) than in AN soils; (5) PyOM additions did not affect native soil C or N mineralization rates, microbial biomass, or PLFA-defined microbial community composition in either soil; (6) The addition of N to GR soil had no effect on the MRT of C from PyOM, wood, or native SOM. The centennial scale MRT for PyOM-C was 32 times slower than that for the precursor pine wood-C or native soil C, which is faster than the MRT used in ecosystem models. Our results show that PyOM-C is readily utilized by all heterotrophic microbial groups, and PyOM-C and -N may be more dynamic in soils than previously thought.