Mineral Associated Organic Matter: Plant Litter Compounds or Microbial Material?
Abstract:Mineral interaction may affect the stabilisation of plant litter directly or indirectly after microbial decomposition and transformation. The importance of both organic matter sources may vary within the soil profile. This talk will synthesize recent work on the composition of mineral associated material in top- as well as subsoil horizons. We used density fractionation to isolate the mineral-associated fraction and characterised their composition by elemental analyses, NMR spectroscopy, analytical pyrolysis as well as nanoSIMS.
Our results showed enrichment of mineral associated organic matter in subsoil horizons. However, material derived from new plant litter may be stabilised at similar rates in top- and subsoil horizons. N-containing compounds are enriched in the mineral associated fraction of subsoil horizons, indicating enrichment of microbial derived material with depth. Nano scale analyses showed that indeed plant-derived material may be associated with metal oxides in topsoil horizons, whereas the mineral associated organic matter in subsoil horizons may consist of microbial cells.
Our results indicate that the nature of OM stabilised by mineral interactions is depth specific. Therefore, we suggest, that plant derived lignocellulosic material may be preserved by mineral interactions in topsoil given its incomplete degradation, thereby leading to the formation of functional groups and favouring adsorption to soil minerals. This is consistent with the higher state of lignin-degradation observed in topsoil horizons as compared to subsoil. At depth, where microorganisms are most likely energy limited, degradation of fresh plant litter may be complete, thereby diminishing the formation of lignocellulosic compounds capable of sorption onto metal oxides. As a result stabilised OM may consist primarily of microbial cells. Thus our study is consistent with the microbial efficiency-matrix stabilisation (MEMS) hypothesis, which says that microbial use efficiency determines stabilisation through interaction with the mineral phase.