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Decoupling of priming and microbial N mining during a short-term soil incubation
- Wild, Birgit, Li, Jian, Pihlblad, Johanna, Bengtson, Per, Rütting, Tobias
- Soil biology & biochemistry 2019 v.129 pp. 71-79
- carbon, chitin, depolymerization, ecosystems, enzymes, lignin, microorganisms, nitrogen, plants (botany), roots, soil, soil carbon, soil organic matter, soil respiration
- Soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) availability depend on the breakdown of soil polymers such as lignin, chitin, and protein that represent the major fraction of soil C and N but are too large for immediate uptake by plants and microorganisms. Microorganisms may adjust the production of enzymes targeting different polymers to optimize the balance between C and N availability and demand, and for instance increase the depolymerization of N-rich compounds when C availability is high and N availability low (“microbial N mining”). Such a mechanism could mitigate plant N limitation but also lie behind a stimulation of soil respiration frequently observed in the vicinity of plant roots (“priming effect”). We here compared the effect of increased C and N availability on the depolymerization of native bulk soil organic matter (SOM), and of 13C-enriched lignin, chitin, and protein added to the same soil in two complementary ten day microcosm incubation experiments. A significant reduction of chitin depolymerization (described by the recovery of chitin-derived C in the sum of dissolved organic, microbial and respired C) upon N addition indicated that chitin was degraded to serve as a microbial N source under low-N conditions and replaced in the presence of an immediately available alternative. Protein and lignin depolymerization in contrast were not affected by N addition. Carbon addition enhanced microbial N demand and SOM decomposition rates, but significantly reduced lignin, chitin, and protein depolymerization. Our findings contrast the hypothesis of increased microbial N mining as a key driver behind the priming effect and rather suggest that C addition promoted the mobilization of other soil C pools that replaced lignin, chitin, and protein as microbial C sources, for instance by releasing soil compounds from mineral bonds. We conclude that SOM decomposition is interactively controlled by multiple mechanisms including the balance between C vs N availability. Disentangling these controls will be crucial for understanding C and N cycling on an ecosystem scale.