Regular Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 310, Issue 1, pp 11-23

First online:

Dynamics of simple carbon compounds in two forest soils as revealed by soil solution concentrations and biodegradation kinetics

  • P. A. W. van HeesAffiliated withMan–Technology–Environment Research Centre, Department of Natural Sciences, Örebro University Email author 
  • , E. JohanssonAffiliated withMan–Technology–Environment Research Centre, Department of Natural Sciences, Örebro University
  • , D. L. JonesAffiliated withSchool of the Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wales

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Simple compounds in soil such as organic acids, amino acids and monosaccharides are believed to be important in regulating many aspects of terrestrial ecosystem functioning (e.g. C cycling, nutrient acquisition). Understanding the fate and dynamics of these low molecular weight (MW) compounds is therefore essential for predicting ecosystem responses to disturbance. Our aim was to quantify the amounts of these compounds in two podzolic forest soil profiles (O, E, Bs and C horizons) and to quantify their contribution to total soil respiration. The total concentration of organic acids, amino acids and monosaccharides in soil solution comprised on average 15 ± 10% of the total dissolved organic C (DOC), with declining concentrations in the deeper soil layers. Dissolved organic N (DON) was the dominant form of N in soil solution and free amino acids contributed to 34% of this pool. The mineralization behaviour of glucose and galactose was described by parabolic (Michaelis–Menten) type kinetics with V max and K M values in the range of <1–250 μmol kg−1 h−1 and 15–1,100 μM, respectively. Assuming that (1) microbially mediated substrate turnover follows Michaelis–Menten kinetics, and (2) steady state soil solution concentrations, we calculated the rate of CO2 efflux attributable to the mineralisation of the three classes of low MW compounds. Our results indicated that in the O horizon, the turnover of these substrates could comprise ~100% of the basal, heterotrophic, soil respiration. In contrast, in the deeper mineral soil <20% of total soil respiration could be attributable to the mineralization of these compounds. Our compound-specific approach has identified the main substrates contributing to soil respiration in forest topsoils. However, our results also suggest that soil respiration in subsoils may be attributable to compounds other than organic acids, amino acids and monosaccharides.


Acid soil Biodegradation Carbon budget Forest soil Galactose Glucose Norway spruce Spodosol