Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Trenching reduces soil heterotrophic activity in a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) forest exposed to elevated atmospheric [CO2] and N fertilization

Formally Refereed
Authors: J.E. Drake, A.C. Oishi, M. A. Giasson, R. Oren, Kurt Johnsen, A.C. Finzi
Year: 2012
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Agriculture and Forest Meteorology


Forests return large quantities of C to the atmosphere through soil respiration (Rsoil), which is often conceptually separated into autotrophic C respired by living roots (Rroot) and heterotrophic decomposition (Rhet) of soil organic matter (SOM). Live roots provide C sources for microbial metabolism via exudation, allocation to fungal associates, sloughed-off cells, and secretions such as mucilage production, suggesting a coupling between the activity of roots and heterotrophs. We addressed the strength of root effects on the activity of microbes and exo-enzymes by removing live-root-C inputs to areas of soil with a trenching experiment. We examined the extent to which trenching affected metrics of soil heterotrophic activity (proteolytic enzyme activity, microbial respiration, potential net N mineralization and nitrification, and exo-enzyme activities) in a forest exposed to elevated atmospheric [CO2] and N fertilization, and used automated measurements of Rsoil in trenched and un-trenched plots to estimate Rroot and Rhet components. Trenching decreased many metrics of heterotrophic activity and increased net N mineralization and nitrification, suggesting that the removal of root-C inputs reduced Rhet by exacerbating microbial C limitation and stimulating waste-N excretion. This trenching effect was muted by N fertilization alone but not when N fertilization was combined with elevated CO2, consistent with known patterns of belowground C allocation at this site. Live-root-C inputs to soils and heterotrophic activity are tightly coupled, so root severing techniques like trenching are not likely to achieve robust quantitative estimates of Rroot or Rhet.


Elevated carbon dioxide, Nitrogen fertilization, Trenching, Priming, Root respiration, Heterotrophic respiration


Drake, J.E.; Oishi, A.C.;Giasson, M. A.;Oren, R.; Johnsen, K.H.; Finzi, A.C. 2012.Trenching reduces soil heterotrophic activity in a loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) forest exposed to elevated atmospheric CO2 and N fertilization. Agricultural Forest Meteorology 165: 43-52. 10 p. 10.1016/j.agrformet.2012.05.017