Evaluating Multiple Drivers of Soil Organic Matter Lability and Structure in a Sub-Alpine Forest Ecosystem
Abstract:Aeolian deposition of reactive nitrogen (N) is reaching even the most remote ecosystems. There has been an abundance of research investigating how these subsidies of reactive N may alter fundamental ecosystem characteristics such as soil organic matter (SOM) pool size. Previous studies have reported that additions of reactive N have the potential to both increase and decrease SOM content. While there are a series of different variables that may affect the size of the SOM pool it has been suggested that the lability or recalcitrance of the SOM may be related to its chemical composition (kind and relative abundance of constituent molecules). To address this we sampled 6 experimental plots in a sub-alpine forest in Rocky Mountain National Park (3 control and 3 treated with reactive N for 18 years) during two months in the summers of 2011 and 2012. We found the SOM content of the control plots was greater than that of the experimental plots. To assess lability of each SOM sample we extracted the SOM from each plot with water and incubated the dissolved organic carbon with a common aquatic microbial community from a lake within the watershed. To assess structure of the SOM pool we used ultra performance liquid chromatography (UPLC) coupled with MS of each extract before incubation with the bacterial community.
The dissolved component of the SOM showed clear differences in lability both in total quantity and rate of decomposition during incubation with aquatic microorganisms. Principle components analysis indicated season was a stronger driver of DOM composition than fertilization, describing the majority of the variability between July and September 2012. When samples were considered within a season and year there were additional differences in both lability and composition of DOM. Here we evaluate the relative influence of inter- and intra-annual variability and reactive N on both the characteristics and composition of SOM. By linking UPLC-MS with a functional assay of lability we attempt to define chemical characteristics of lability that can be assessed across ecosystems. Doing so will allow us to better understand linked biogeochemical cycles (C and N) across a wide range of soil ecosystems.