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Soil organic matter dynamics: a biological perspective derived from the use of compound-specific isotopes studies


Gleixner,  Gerd
Molecular Biogeochemistry Group, Dr. G. Gleixner, Department Biogeochemical Processes, Prof. S. E. Trumbore, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Gleixner, G. (2013). Soil organic matter dynamics: a biological perspective derived from the use of compound-specific isotopes studies. Ecological Research, 28, 683-695. doi:10.1007/s11284-012-1022-9.

Current attempts to explain the persistence of carbon in soils focuses on explanations such as the recalcitrant plant residues and the physical isolation of substrates from decomposers. A pool of organic matter that can persist for centuries to millennia is hypothesized because of the evidence provided by the persistence of pre-disturbance C in fallow or vegetation change experiments, and the radiocarbon age of soil carbon. However, new information, which became available through advances in the ability to measure the isotope signatures of specific compounds, favors a new picture of organic matter dynamics. Instead of persistence of plant-derived residues like lignin in the soil, the majority of mineral soil is in molecules derived from microbial synthesis. Carbon recycled multiple times through the microbial community can be old, decoupling the radiocarbon age of C atoms from the chemical or biological lability of the molecules they comprise. In consequence is soil microbiology, a major control on soil carbon dynamics, which highlights the potential vulnerability of soil organic matter to changing environmental conditions. Moreover, it emphasizes the need to devise new management options to restore, increase, and secure this valuable resource.