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14C mean residence time and its relationship with thermal stability and molecular composition of soil organic matter: A case study of deciduous and coniferous forest types

Ohno, Tsutomu, Heckman, Katherine A., Plante, Alain F., Fernandez, Ivan J., Parr, Thomas B.
Geoderma 2017
B horizons, aluminum, binding sites, carbon, carbon cycle, case studies, coniferous forests, iron, mass spectrometry, mineral soils, minerals, molecular weight, organic horizons, soil depth, soil organic matter, soil profiles, sorption, thermal analysis, thermal stability
Soil organic matter (SOM) plays a critical role in the global terrestrial carbon cycle, and a better understanding of soil processes involved in SOM stability is essential to determine how projected climate-driven changes in soil processes will influence carbon dynamics. We used 14C signature, analytical thermal analysis, and ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry to determine the influence of deciduous and coniferous forest vegetation type and soil depth on the stability of soil C. The 14C mean residence time (MRT) of the illuvial B horizon soils averaged 1350years for the deciduous soils and 795years for the coniferous soils. The difference of MRT between mineral soils by forest type may be due to the saturation of extractable Fe and Al minerals binding sites by SOM in the coniferous soils, allowing greater transport of modern SOM from the O horizon down the soil profile, as compared with the non-saturated minerals in the deciduous soil profile. The molecular mass distribution of the deciduous water-extractable aromatic SOM fraction was shifted to a lower mass range in the lower portion of B horizon soil compared with the upper portion, indicating preferential sorption of the higher mass aromatic fraction. The shift in the mass distribution of the aromatic fraction in the coniferous soil was much less than in the deciduous soil, which supports the view that the extractable metal minerals had reached saturation. We conclude that greater transport of modern O horizon SOM to the lower mineral B horizons in the coniferous soil profile resulted in its radiocarbon enrichment and shorter estimated MRT. Our findings highlight the importance of forest vegetation type, soil depth and transport mechanisms on SOM stability, and suggest important ecological implications for changes in forest composition on the terrestrial C cycle.