Main content area

The influence of tillage on dissolved organic matter dynamics in a Mid-Atlantic agroecosystem

Schmidt, Michael P., Martínez, Carmen Enid
Geoderma 2019 v.344 pp. 63-73
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, agroecosystems, amino acids, biogeochemistry, dissolved organic matter, fluorescence, fluorescent dyes, fractionation, land management, moieties, no-tillage, phenol, plowing, soil organic matter, soil profiles
Dissolved organic matter (DOM) represents a fraction of soil organic matter essential to many biogeochemical processes in surface soils and subsoils. Given its dynamic nature, DOM is known to be sensitive to land management practices. This study investigates the influence of tillage on DOM dynamics, including amount and composition of DOM, through a soil profile up to 72 cm depth from moldboard plowed (MB) and no-till (NT) plots in a Mid-Atlantic agroecosystem. Composition of DOM is probed using UV/Visible spectrophotometry (UV/Vis), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and fluorescence excitation-emission matrices (EEMs). Tillage decreases extractable DOM at the topmost depth interval studied (0–12 cm), with similar amounts extracted at depths below this point from MB and NT soils. DOM content of MB and NT soils decreases with depth, following a gradual decline in NT soils and a sharp decrease below the plow layer (20 cm) in MB soils. In both soils, chemical composition of DOM becomes less aromatic and less polysaccharide-like in character with depth accompanied by a relative enrichment in carboxylate groups. EEMs demonstrate that species within DOM follow a corresponding transition from conjugated fluorophores to moieties attributable to simple phenol, protein, amino acid and nucleic acid-like DOM constituents. These depth trends in functional group composition follow a distribution similar to DOM content, with observed transitions more abrupt in the MB than NT soils and marked by the plow layer. The decrease in DOM content with depth and the aforementioned shifts in DOM characteristics point to sorptive fractionation of DOM by the soil matrix and/or a conversion from more plant-derived DOM near the surface to more microbially processed DOM in subsoils. Overall, this work further highlights the impact of tillage on DOM behavior below the zone of physical disruption, suggesting that tillage also influences downstream DOM dynamics.