Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 38–42 | Cite as

Activity and biomass of soil microorganisms at different depths

  • M. F. E. Lavahun
  • R. G. Joergensen
  • B. Meyer
Original Paper


We measured microbial biomass C and soil organic C in soils from one grassland and two arable sites at depths of between 0 and 90 cm. The microbial biomass C content decreased from a maximum of 1147 (0–10 cm layer) to 24 μg g-1 soil (70–90 cm layer) at the grassland site, from 178 (acidic site) and 264 μg g-1 soil (neutral site) at 10–20 cm to values of between 13 and 12 μg g-1 soil (70–90 cm layer) at the two arable sites. No significant depth gradient was observed within the plough layer (0–30 cm depth) for biomass C and soil organic C contents. In general, the microbial biomass C to soil organic C ratio decreased with depth from a maximum of between 1.4 and 2.6% to a minimum of between 0.5 and 0.7% at 70–90 cm in the three soils. Over a 24-week incubation period at 25°C, we examined the survival of microbial biomass in our three soils at depths of between 0 and 90 cm without external substrate. At the end of the incubation experiment, the contents of microbial biomass C at 0–30 cm were significantly lower than the initial values. At depths of between 30 and 90 cm, the microbial biomass C content showed no significant decline in any of the four soils and remained constant up to the end of the experiment. On average, 5.8% of soil organic C was mineralized at 0–30 cm in the three soils and 4.8% at 30–90 cm. Generally, the metabolic quotient qCO2 values increased with depth and were especially large at 70–90 cm in depth.

Key words

Microbial biomass Depth profile Fumigation-extraction method Soil organic matter Dormant population 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson TH, Domsch KH (1985) Determination of ecophysiological maintenance carbon requirements of soil microorganisms in a dormant state. Biol Fertil Soils 1:81–89Google Scholar
  2. Anderson TH, Domsch KH (1986) Carbon link between microbial biomass and soil organic matter. In: Megusar F, Gantar M (eds) Perspectives in microbial ecology. Proc 4th Int Symp Microbial Ecoloy 1986, Ljubljana, Croatia, pp 467–471Google Scholar
  3. Anderson TH, Domsch KH (1990) Application of eco-physiological quotients (qCO2 and qD) on microbial biomasses from soils of different cropping histories. Soil Biol Biochem 22:251–255Google Scholar
  4. Anderson TH, Domsch KH (1993) The metabolic quotient for CO2 (qCO2) as a specific activity parameter to assess the effects of environmental conditions, such as pH, on the microbial biomass of forest soils. Soil Biol Biochem 25:393–395Google Scholar
  5. Anderson TH, Gray TRG (1991) The influence of soil organic carbon on microbial growth and survival. In: Wilson WS (ed) Advances in microbial soil organic matter research: The impact on agriculture and the environment. Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, pp 253–256Google Scholar
  6. Becker KW, Geries H, Meyer B (1993) Gas-Umsatz (O2, CO2, N-Isotope) in Verbindung mit Denitrifikation in der Dränzone eines mächtigen Lößpaketes. Göttinger Bodenkd Ber 97:62–83Google Scholar
  7. Burns RG (ed) (1978) Soil enzymes. Academic Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Gäth S (1987) Böden aus Löß in ihrer hydrologisch bedingten Gesellschaft in Börde und Hügellandschaften Südniedersachsens. PhD-thesis, University of Göttingen, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  9. Insam H, Parkinson D, Domsch KH (1989) Influence of macroclimate on soil microbial biomass. Soil Biol Biochem 21:211–221Google Scholar
  10. Joergensen RG (1995a) The fumigation incubation method. In: Alef K, Nannipieri P (eds) Methods in applied soil microbiology and biochemistry. Academic Press, London, pp 370–375Google Scholar
  11. Joergensen RG (1995b) The fumigation extraction method to estimate soil microbial biomass: Extraction with 0.01 M CaCl2. Agribio Res 48:(in press)Google Scholar
  12. Joergensen RG, Brookes PC, Jenkinson DS (1990) Survival of the soil microbial biomass at elevated temperatures. Soil Biol Biochem 22:1129–1136Google Scholar
  13. Joergensen RG, Meyer B, Mueller T (1994) Time-course of the soil microbial biomass under wheat: A one year field study. Soil Biol Biochem 26:987–994Google Scholar
  14. Joergensen RG, Brookes PC, Jenkinson DS (1990) Survival of the soil microbial biomass at elevated temperatures. Soil Biol Biochem 22:1129–1136Google Scholar
  15. Kaiser EA, Heinemeyer O (1993) Seasonal variations of soil microbial biomass carbon within the plough layer. Soil Biol Biochem 25:1649–1656Google Scholar
  16. Kaiser EA, Mueller T, Joergensen RG, Insam H, Heinemeyer O (1992) Evaluation of methods to estimate the soil microbial biomass and the relationship with soil texture and organic matter. Soil Biol Biochem 24:675–683Google Scholar
  17. Kandeler E, Margesin R, Öhlinger R, Schinner F (1993) Bodenmikrobiologisches Monitoring-Vorschläge für eine Bodenzustandsinventur. Bodenkultur 44:357–377Google Scholar
  18. Kassim G, Martin JP, Haider K (1982) Incorporation of a wide variety of organic substrate carbons into soil biomass as estimated by the fumigation procedure. Soil Sci Soc Am J 45:1106–1112Google Scholar
  19. Lavahun MFE (1994) Depth and time function of biomass in ploughed and grassland Typudalfs of Lower Saxony, Germany. PhD thesis, University of GöttingenGoogle Scholar
  20. Lind AM, Eiland F (1989) Microbiological characterization and nitrate reduction in subsurface soil. Biol Fertil Soils 8:197–203Google Scholar
  21. Nannipieri P, Muccini L, Ciardi C (1983) Microbial biomass and enzyme activities: Production and persistence. Soil Biol Biochem 15:679–685Google Scholar
  22. Patra DD, Brookes PC, Coleman K, Jenkinson DS (1990) Seasonal changes of soil microbial biomass in an arable and a grassland soil which have been under uniform management for many years. Soil Biol Biochem 22:739–742Google Scholar
  23. Schlichting E, Blume HP, Stahr K (1995) Bodenkundliches Praktikum, 2nd edn. Blackwell, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  24. Vance ED, Brookes PC, Jenkinson DS (1987) An extraction method for measuring soil microbial biomass C. Soil Biol Biochem 19: 703–708Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. F. E. Lavahun
    • 1
  • R. G. Joergensen
    • 1
  • B. Meyer
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für BodenwissenschaftGöttingenGermany

Personalised recommendations