, Volume 360, Issue 1-2, pp 163-174
Date: 04 Apr 2012

Litter VOCs induce changes in soil microbial biomass C and N and largely increase soil CO2 efflux

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We investigated the effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by pine litter, specifically terpenes, on soil microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen and heterotrophic soil respiration under different microclimatic scenarios of water availability and temperature.


Soil in glass jars (0.6 L headspace) was exposed to pine needle litter, avoiding any physical contact between soils and litter. Treatments were subjected to two moisture levels, control and drought (20 % and 10 % gravimetric soil water content respectively) and to different temperatures (temperature response curve from 5 °C to 45 °C).


In control soils, exposure to litter was associated with a significant decrease in microbial biomass carbon and ninhydrin extractable organic nitrogen, and with a significant increase in heterotrophic respiration (up to 46 %) under optimum temperature (25 °C). Drought, on the other hand, restricted the effects of litter exposure on heterotrophic respiration but exposure to litter was associated with a significant increase in microbial biomass nitrogen. We did not detect significant overall microbial consumption of terpenes in this study.


These results suggest either that other VOCs not measured in the study were being consumed and/or that VOCs emissions were triggering strong changes in the composition and functioning of soil microbial communities. More studies under field conditions are needed to assess the magnitude of litter VOCs effects on carbon and nitrogen cycles.

Responsible Editor: Paul Bodelier.