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Buried organic horizons represent amino acid reservoirs in boreal forest soils

Werdin-Pfisterer, Nancy R., Kielland, Knut, Boone, Richard D.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2012 v.55 pp. 122-131
Picea, Populus alba, Populus balsamifera subsp. balsamifera, alanine, amino acid composition, asparagine, aspartic acid, boreal forests, bulk density, carbon, exudation, floodplains, floods, forest litter, forest soils, glutamic acid, glutamine, high performance liquid chromatography, histidine, landscapes, nitrogen, organic horizons, pH, rivers, roots, soil depth, soil profiles, terraces, water content, Alaska
We examined the composition and concentration of amino acids by soil horizon and depth on the Tanana River floodplain in interior Alaska. Soils from mid-successional stages of balsam poplar and white spruce were separated into successive forest floor (Oe/Oa), buried organic horizons (BOHs), and mineral horizons; and water-extractable amino acid composition and concentration were determined by HPLC. The number, depth, and thickness of BOHs were highly variable across the landscape and among replicates of the same stand type, reflecting differences in terrace age, flood frequency, flood intensity, river channel position, vegetation inputs, and decomposition. BOHs generally had lower pH and bulk density, higher moisture content, and greater concentrations of carbon, nitrogen, and roots than the surrounding mineral horizons. In each horizon of both successional stages, the soil amino acid pool was dominated by glutamic acid, glutamine, alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, and histidine, which together accounted for approximately 80% of the total amino acids found. Despite the similar overall amino acid composition among the horizons, proportions of glutamine generally increased with depth and were generally greater in the mineral horizons than in the BOHs, suggesting root exudation or fine root turnover as an amino acid source. In both successional stages, amino acid concentrations were nearly always highest in the Oe/Oa horizon and rapidly decreased with depth. BOHs generally had greater amino acid concentrations than the surrounding mineral horizons in both successional stages, but amino acid concentrations in successive BOHs declined with depth in the soil profile, suggesting that although BOHs do remain as biological hot spots and potential nutrient reservoirs as far down as 60 cm depth, their importance declines over time.