, Volume 96, Issue 1–3, pp 209–231 | Cite as

Sequential density fractionation across soils of contrasting mineralogy: evidence for both microbial- and mineral-controlled soil organic matter stabilization

  • Phillip Sollins
  • Marc G. Kramer
  • Christopher Swanston
  • Kate Lajtha
  • Timothy Filley
  • Anthony K. Aufdenkampe
  • Rota Wagai
  • Richard D. Bowden


Sequential density fractionation separated soil particles into “light” predominantly mineral-free organic matter vs. increasingly “heavy” organo-mineral particles in four soils of widely differing mineralogy. With increasing particle density C concentration decreased, implying that the soil organic matter (OM) accumulations were thinner. With thinner accumulations we saw evidence for both an increase in 14C-based mean residence time (MRT) of the OM and a shift from plant to microbial origin.Evidence for the latter included: (1) a decrease in C/N, (2) a decrease in lignin phenols and an increase in their oxidation state, and (3) an increase in δ13C and δ15N. Although bulk-soil OM levels varied substantially across the four soils, trends in OM composition and MRT across the density fractions were similar. In the intermediate density fractions (~1.8–2.6 g cm−3), most of the reactive sites available for interaction with organic molecules were provided by aluminosilicate clays, and OM characteristics were consistent with a layered mode of OM accumulation. With increasing density (lower OM loading) within this range, OM showed evidence of an increasingly microbial origin. We hypothesize that this microbially derived OM was young at the time of attachment to the mineral surfaces but that it persisted due to both binding with mineral surfaces and protection beneath layers of younger, less microbially processed C. As a result of these processes, the OM increased in MRT, oxidation state, and degree of microbial processing in the sequentially denser intermediate fractions. Thus mineral surface chemistry is assumed to play little role in determining OM composition in these intermediate fractions. As the separation density was increased beyond ~2.6 g cm−3, mineralogy shifted markedly: aluminosilicate clays gave way first to light primary minerals including quartz, then at even higher densities to various Fe-bearing primary minerals. Correspondingly, we observed a marked drop in δ15N, a weaker decrease in extent of microbial processing of lignin phenols, and some evidence of a rise in C/N ratio. At the same time, however, 14C-based MRT time continued its increase. The increase in MRT, despite decreases in degree of microbial alteration, suggests that mineral surface composition (especially Fe concentration) plays a strong role in determining OM composition across these two densest fractions.


151314Lignin phenol Primary mineral Protein 



We thank Gesa Thomas, Lisa Ganio, Dave Beilman, and Sarah Beldin for help with sample and data analyses and graphics. Funding was provided by grants from NSF and USDA NRI to PS and from USDA NRI to KL. Analysis of the Kinabalu soil was facilitated by funding to PS from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship Program as a visiting scientist, and by Prof. K. Kitayama who provided laboratory supplies and facilities at the Center for Ecological Research, Kyoto University. Lastly, we acknowledge the critical contribution of B. A. Caldwell during the inception of this project in introducing us to the extensive literature on preferential sorption of protein to mineral surfaces. Funding for this work was provided by grants from the USDA CSREES NRI program (2002-35107-12249 to KL, 2005-35107-16336 to PS, and 2007-03184 to MK).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Phillip Sollins
    • 1
  • Marc G. Kramer
    • 2
  • Christopher Swanston
    • 3
  • Kate Lajtha
    • 4
  • Timothy Filley
    • 5
  • Anthony K. Aufdenkampe
    • 6
  • Rota Wagai
    • 7
  • Richard D. Bowden
    • 8
  1. 1.Forest Science DepartmentOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesUniversity of California Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  3. 3.US Forest Service Northern Research StationHoughtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Botany & Plant PathologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  5. 5.Department of Earth & Atmospheric SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  6. 6.Stroud Water Research CenterAvondaleUSA
  7. 7.National Institute for Environmental StudiesTsukubaJapan
  8. 8.Allegheny CollegeMeadvilleUSA

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