Does elevated N make lignin more recalcitrant?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 11:50 AM
Michael N Weintraub1, Zachary L. Rinkes1, Stuart Grandy2, Kyle Wickings3 and Isabelle Bertrand4, (1)University of Toledo, Toledo, OH, United States, (2)University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, United States, (3)Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States, (4)INRA Reims, Reims, France
Increases in nitrogen (N) availability are often found to reduce decomposition rates of lignin-rich plant litter. However, the biological and chemical mechanisms that cause this inhibitory effect are still unclear. Our goal was to determine why increased N availability inhibits lignin decomposition. We tested two competing hypotheses: 1) decomposers degrade lignin to obtain protected N compounds and stop producing lignin-degrading enzymes if mineral N is available; or 2) chemical reactions between lignin and mineral N make lignin more recalcitrant, thereby limiting the ability of decomposers to break it down. To test these hypotheses, we followed changes in carbon (C) mineralization, microbial biomass and enzyme activities, litter chemistry, and lignin monomer concentrations over a 478-day laboratory incubation of three genotypes of maize stem internodes varying in litter quality. They were factorially combined with either an acidic or neutral pH sandy soil, with and without added N. Adding N reduced C mineralization, microbial biomass, and lignin-degrading enzyme activities in all treatments. Furthermore, our data on litter chemistry and lignin monomers indicate that N addition did not significantly alter the quantity or quality of lignin in any treatment. These results suggest that abiotic interactions between N and lignin compounds did not alter the ability of decomposers to breakdown lignin. Thus, we conclude that mineral N alters microbial enzyme and biomass dynamics, but not lignin chemistry during maize decomposition.