, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 5–21 | Cite as

Variations in microbial isotopic fractionation during soil organic matter decomposition

  • T. Z. Lerch
  • N. Nunan
  • M.-F. Dignac
  • C. Chenu
  • A. Mariotti


The soil microbial biomass (SMB) is known to participate in key soil processes such as the decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM). However, its contribution to the isotopic composition of the SOM is not clear yet. Shifts in the 13C and 15N natural abundances of the SMB and SOM fractions (mineralised, water soluble and non-extractable) were investigated by incubating an unamended arable soil for 6 months. Microbial communities were also studied using Fatty Acid Methyl Ester specific isotope analysis. The SMB was significantly 13C and 15N-enriched relative to other fractions throughout the incubation. However, significant isotopic variations with time were also observed due to the rapid consumption of relatively 13C-enriched water soluble compounds. The increase in the difference in SMB and water soluble 15N compositions as the water soluble C/N ratio decreased, indicated a shift from N assimilation to N dissimilation during the incubation. These changes also induced modifications of the microbial community structure. Once the system reached a steady-state (after 1 month), the isotopic trends appeared to corroborate those obtained in long term experiments in the field in that there was a constant microbial isotopic fractionation leading to a 13C and 15N enrichment of the SOM over the long-term. This work also suggests that caution must be exercised when interpreting short term incubation studies since perturbations associated with experimental set-up can have an important effect on C and N dynamics, microbial fractionation of 13C and 15N and microbial community structure.


1315Isotope fractionation Soil organic matter Microbial community 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. Z. Lerch
    • 1
    • 2
  • N. Nunan
    • 2
  • M.-F. Dignac
    • 2
  • C. Chenu
    • 2
  • A. Mariotti
    • 2
  1. 1.Uppsala BioCenter, Department of Chemistry SwedishUniversity of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)UppsalaSweden
  2. 2.BIOEMCO, (CNRS-INRA-UMPC-AgroParisTech)Thiverval-GrignonFrance

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