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Sources of plant-derived carbon and stability of organic matter in soil: Implications for global change

Formally Refereed
Authors: Susan E. Crow, Kate Lajtha, Timothy R. Filley, Chris Swanston, Richard D. Bowden, Bruce A. Caldwell
Year: 2009
Type: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Station: Northern Research Station
Source: Global Change Biology. 15(8): 2003-2019.


Alterations in forest productivity and changes in the relative proportion of above- and belowground biomass may have nonlinear effects on soil organic matter (SOM) storage. To study the influence of plant litter inputs on SOM accumulation, the Detritus Input Removal and Transfer (DIRT) Experiment continuously alters above- and belowground plant inputs to soil by a combination of trenching, screening, and litter addition. Here, we used biogeochemical indicators [i.e., cupric oxide extractable lignin-derived phenols and suberin/cutin-derived substituted fatty acids (SFA)] to identify the dominant sources of plant biopolymers in SOM and various measures [i.e., soil density fractionation, laboratory incubation, and radiocarbon-based mean residence time (MRT)] to assess the stability of SOM in two contrasting forests within the DIRT Experiment: an aggrading deciduous forest and an old-growth coniferous forest. In the deciduous forest, removal of both above- and belowground inputs increased the total amount of SFA over threefold compared with the control, and shifted the SFA signature towards a root-dominated source. Concurrently, light fraction MRT increased by 101 years and C mineralization during incubation decreased compared with the control. Together, these data suggest that root-derived aliphatic compounds are a source of SOM with greater relative stability than leaf inputs at this site.


carbon, coniferous forest, cutin, deciduous forest, lignin, net primary productivity, soil organic matter, suberin


Crow, Susan E.; Lajtha, Kate; Filley, Timothy R.; Swanston, Christopher W.; Bowden, Richard D.; Caldwell, Bruce A. 2009. Sources of plant-derived carbon and stability of organic matter in soil: Implications for global change. Global Change Biology. 15(8): 2003-2019.