Carbon Mineralization and Nitrogen Transformation During a Long Term Permafrost Incubation

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Verity G Salmon, University of Florida, Ft Walton Beach, FL, United States, Michelle C Mack, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, United States and Edward A G Schuur, Northern Arizona University, Biology, Flagstaff, AZ, United States
As the limiting nutrient in warming high latitude ecosystems, nitrogen (N) is expected to play a key role in determining the future balance between permafrost carbon (C) losses and increased C sequestration by plants. During decomposition, nitrogen previously locked in soil organic matter is released into the soil solution in the form of dissolved organic molecules following depolymerization by extracellular enzymes. These dissolved organic forms of N can be consumed by the soil microbial community and incorporated in their biomass or mineralized if they are in excess of microbial demand. Once mineralized and released into the soil solutions, N can be lost from the soil system via denitrification. In well drained, low N tussock tundra, however, this pathway is unlikely. Dissolved inorganic N (DIN) and dissolved organic N (DON) are both biologically available to arctic plants. Understanding how the size of these pools changes with depth and continuing decomposition is therefore crucial to projecting the C balance of high latitude systems in a warmer future. N transformations associated with decomposition may differ greatly in surface soils, where a large labile C pool is present and soil has a high C:N ratio, versus deep soils that have a relatively small labile C pool and a lower C:N ratio. In this experiment, the relationship between N availability and C release from permafrost soils was addressed with a 225 day soil incubation performed at 15°C. Seven soil cores were collected from undisturbed, well drained tussock tundra and were partitioned into ten centimeter depth intervals to a depth of 80 cm. Carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes were measured throughout the incubation period and were used to assess cumulative carbon losses and determine the size of the labile C pool. Destructive harvests at days 16,34,55,83, 143 and 225 were performed and pools of plant available DON and DIN were measured using 2M KCl extractions. At day 225 the microbial biomass N pool was also measured. Permafrost soils at 55-85cm depths exhibited higher initial (4.4 mg N/gN) and late stage DIN pools (6.9 mg/gN at day 143) than active layer soils at 0-55cm depths (0.4 mgN/gN initial DIN, 2.4 mgN/gN at day 143). The size of the labile C pool decreased with depth, and larger labile N pools delayed the release of plant available N forms from the SOM.