Response of Microbial Soil Carbon Mineralization Rates to Oxygen Limitations
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 2:10 PM
The rate of soil organic matter (SOM) mineralization is known to be controlled by climatic factors as well as molecular structure, mineral-organic associations, and physical protection. What remains elusive is to what extent oxygen (O2) limitations impact overall rates of microbial SOM mineralization (oxidation) in soils. Even within upland soils that are aerobic in bulk, factors limiting O2 diffusion such as texture and soil moisture can result in an abundance of anaerobic microsites in the interior of soil aggregates. Variation in ensuing anaerobic respiration pathways can further impact SOM mineralization rates. Using a combination of (first) aggregate model systems and (second) manipulations of intact field samples, we show how limitations on diffusion and carbon bioavailability interact to impose anaerobic conditions and associated respiration constraints on SOM mineralization rates. In model aggregates, we examined how particle size (soil texture) and amount of dissolved organic carbon (bioavailable carbon) affect O2 availability and distribution. Monitoring electron acceptor profiles (O2, NO3-, Mn and Fe) and SOM transformations (dissolved, particulate, mineral-associated pools) across the resulting redox gradients, we then determined the distribution of operative microbial metabolisms and their cumulative impact on SOM mineralization rates. Our results show that anaerobic conditions decrease SOM mineralization rates overall, but those are partially offset by the concurrent increases in SOM bioavailability due to transformations of protective mineral phases. In intact soil aggregates collected from soils varying in texture and SOM content, we mapped the spatial distribution of anaerobic microsites. Optode imaging, microsensor profiling and 3D tomography revealed that soil texture regulates overall O2 availability in aggregate interiors, while particulate SOM in biopores appears to control the fine-scale distribution of anaerobic microsites. Collectively, our results suggest that texture and particulate organic matter content are useful predictors for the impact of O2 limitations on SOM mineralization rates.