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Shifting sources of soil labile organic carbon after termination of plant carbon inputs in a subtropical moist forest of southwest China


Labile organic carbon (LOC) is a critical component of soil organic carbon (C) because of its intimate association with soil heterotrophic respiration and role in the decomposition of resistant soil organic matter. In a subtropical moist evergreen broad-leaved forest of southwest China, we examined changes of LOC and its potential turnover time, microbial biomass C (MBC), and soil microbial activity of the organic and the 0–10 cm mineral soil layers with aboveground plant litter and belowground root treatments. In February of 2004, removal of organic layer, root-trenching, and tree-girdling treatments were applied alone and in combination to manipulate plant-C inputs. In 2006, root-trenching and tree-girdling treatments did not significantly change LOC in the organic layer. In the 0–10 cm mineral soil layer, LOC increased substantially due to tree-girdling treatment, especially in the plots of tree-girdling and the combinations of three treatments, but this increase was absent in 2007. Soil MBC in these two layers generally did not change markedly after plant-C inputs manipulations except significant increase under tree-girdling treatment in 2006. The potential turnover times of LOC increased in all plots with the plant-C inputs manipulations. The lack of influence of plant-C inputs manipulations on LOC pools is likely due to high total soil organic C here, while insignificant changes of MBC suggest the soil microbes are not C limited in this forest. The changes of the potential turnover time of LOC imply that the sources of LOC have been shifted from fresh plant litter or root exudates to old soil organic C. Our results suggest that LOC recently derived from plants is preferred by microbes when available, but microbes can also use LOC from soil organic matter when fresh plant C is not available.

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We are grateful to the Bureau of Nature Reserve of Jingdong County for giving the permission to carry out this experiment in the Ailao Mountain Nature Reserve. We thank Yun Fu for the help for the chemical analyses, and Lingling Shi for providing unpublished data on the soil microbial community. We also appreciate the support in the field by the staff of the Ailaoshan Nature Reserve. This is a research contribution from the Ailaoshan Station for Subtropical Forest Ecosystem Studies (ASSFE), Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Ailaoshan National Ecosystem Observation Research Network Station, Chinese Ecological Research Network, Jingdong, Yunnan, P. R. China. This study was financially supported by the Natural Science Foundation of Yunnan (2005C0056M), Wang K. C. Foundation, and Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Correspondence to Wenting Feng.

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Feng, W., Schaefer, D.A., Zou, X. et al. Shifting sources of soil labile organic carbon after termination of plant carbon inputs in a subtropical moist forest of southwest China. Ecol Res 26, 437–444 (2011).

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  • Girdling
  • Microbial biomass carbon
  • Sequential fumigation incubation
  • Soil labile organic carbon
  • Trenching
  • Turnover time