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Natural 13C abundance reveals age of dietary carbon sources in nematode trophic groups

Vestergård, Mette, Dam, Marie, Mortensen, Louise Hindborg, Dyckmans, Jens, Christensen, Bent T.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2019 v.130 pp. 1-7
Nematoda, bacterivores, carbon, corn, feces, field experimentation, fungivores, microbial biomass, roots, sheep, soil, stable isotopes
We determined the 13C/12C ratio (expressed as δ13C ‰) of microbial biomass and nematode trophic groups in a small-plot field experiment with soil converted from C3- to C4-crop (silage maize) 20 years ago. During this period, the plots were subjected to three different organic input treatments: 1) maize stubbles and roots left after harvest (MS), 2) MS plus annual addition of aboveground maize biomass (MS + B), and 3) MS plus annual addition of faeces from sheep fed exclusively with maize (MS + F). The different δ13C value of C3- and C4-crops allowed us to distinguish between old (>20 years old) C3-derived C and recent (<20 years old) C4-derived C incorporated into microbial biomass and nematodes.The δ13C value of phytophagous nematodes closely matched that of the maize. Bacterivorous nematodes had higher δ13C values than fungivorous nematodes and microbial biomass indicating that the C sources of bacterivorous nematodes are more recent than those of fungivorous nematodes and microbial biomass. At low abundance of fungivorous nematodes (MS and MS + F), the microbial biomass had higher δ13C values than the fungivorous nematodes, whereas their δ13C values were comparable at higher densities of fungivorous nematodes (MS + B). The higher C4-derived input in MS + F and MS + B treatments increased the δ13C values of bacterivorous nematodes and microbial biomass.In MS and MS + B treatments, recent C4-derived C accounted for 50 and 70% of microbial biomass-C, respectively. Corresponding values for fungivorous and bacterivorous nematodes were 30 and 75%, and 65 and 85%, respectively.We conclude that fungal-based decomposition pathways contribute more to the turnover of old soil C than bacterial-based decomposition. A substantial fraction of the microbial biomass and fungivorous nematode C in the MS treatment (50 and 70%, respectively) was C deposited in the soil more than 20 years ago, confirming that decade-old SOC remains biologically active.