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The fate of litter-derived dissolved organic carbon in forest soils: results from an incubation experiment

Wang, Min, Tian, Qiuxiang, Liao, Chang, Zhao, Rudong, Wang, Dongya, Wu, Yu, Li, Qianxi, Wang, Xinggang, Liu, Feng
Biogeochemistry 2019 v.144 no.2 pp. 133-147
biogeochemical cycles, carbon dioxide, dissolved organic carbon, forest ecosystems, forest soils, isotope labeling, leachates, leaching, mineralization, models, soil microorganisms, soil organic carbon, stable isotopes, topsoil, water solubility
Despite being a crucial component of nutrient cycling and soil carbon (C) dynamics in forest ecosystems, there is too little information from past studies to discern whether dissolved organic carbon (DOC) exchanges with soil organic carbon or passes unaltered through soils. In this study, we added ¹³C-labelled litter-derived DOC into different depth soil columns in a 180-day incubation experiment to determine the fate of DOC in soils, and to monitor the changes in DOC composition when it percolates through the soil. The results showed that δ¹³C values increased in soil microbes, which indicated that some litter-derived DOC was immobilized by soil microbial communities. Approximately 76% of litter-derived DOC was retained in the soil (60% in topsoil and 16% in midsoil). Meanwhile, 18%, 4%, and 3% of litter-derived DOC were mineralized into CO₂ in topsoil, midsoil and subsoil respectively. Only 0.04% of litter-derived DOC leached from the soil column (0–60 cm). These results indicated that DOC was mainly retained on soil, and a small portion was mineralized by microorganisms, with minimal leaching. The composition of water soluble soil organic carbon (WSOC) and leachate DOC (LDOC) were similar between the control and treatment. This indicated that the composition of WSOC and LDOC was more similar to soil C than the added DOC, which supports the previously hypothesized dynamic exchange model. These findings provide new insight by showing that most litter-derived DOC is sequestered in forest soils.