Long-term litter manipulation alters soil organize matter turnover in a temperate deciduous forest.
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Lin, Lisa H.
Lun, Olivia O. Y.
Bowden, Richard D.
Simpson, Andre J.
Simpson, Myrna J.
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Understanding soil organic matter (OM) biogeochemistry at the molecular-level is essential for assessing potential impacts from management practices and climate change on shifts in soil carbon storage. Biomarker analyses and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy were used in an ongoing detrital input and removal treatment experiment in a temperate deciduous forest in Pennsylvania, USA, to examine how above- and below-ground plant inputs control soil OM quantity and quality at the molecular-level. From plant material to surface soils, the free acyclic lipids and cutin, suberin, and lignin biomarkers were preferentially retained over free sugars and free cyclic lipids. After 20 years of above-ground litter addition (Double Litter) or exclusion (No Litter) treatments, soil OM composition was relatively more degraded, as revealed by solid-state 13C NMR spectroscopy. Under Doubled Litter inputs, soil carbon and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) concentrations were unchanged, suggesting that the current OM degradation status is a reflection of microbial-mediated degradation that occurred prior to the 20-year sampling campaign. Soil OM degradation was higher in the No Litter treatments, likely due to the decline in fresh, above-ground litter inputs over time. Furthermore, root and root and litter exclusion treatments (No Roots and No Inputs, respectively) both significantly reduced free sugars and PLFAs and increased preservation of suberin-derived compounds. PLFA stress ratios and the low N-acetyl resonances from diffusion edited 1H NMR also indicate substrate limitations and reduced microbial biomass with these treatments. Overall, we highlight that storage of soil carbon and its biochemical composition do not linearly increase with plant inputs because the microbial processing of soil OM is also likely altered in the studied forest.