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Aggregation controls the stability of lignin and lipids in clay-sized particulate and mineral associated organic matter

Abstract

Physical separation of soil into different soil organic matter (SOM) fractions is widely used to identify organic carbon pools that are differently stabilized and have distinct chemical composition. However, the mechanisms underlying these differences in stability and chemical composition are only partly understood. To provide new insights into the stabilization of different chemical compound classes in physically-separated SOM fractions, we assessed shifts in the biomolecular composition of bulk soils and individual particle size fractions that were incubated in the laboratory for 345 days. After the incubation, also the incubated bulk soil was fractionated. The chemical composition of organic matter in bulk soils and fractions was characterized by 13C-CPMAS nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and sequential chemical extraction followed by GC/MS measurements. Plant-derived lipids and lignin were abundant in particulate organic matter (POM) fractions of sand-, silt-, and clay-size and the mineral-bound, clay-sized organic matter. These results indicate that recent conceptualizations of SOM stabilization probably understate the contribution of plant-derived organic matter to stable SOM pools. Although our data indicate that inherent recalcitrance could be important in soils with limited aggregation, organo-mineral interactions and aggregation were responsible for long-term SOM stabilization. In particular, we observed consistently higher concentrations of plant-derived lipids in POM fractions that were incubated individually, where aggregates were disrupted, as compared to those incubated as bulk soil, where aggregates stayed intact. This finding emphasizes the importance of aggregation for the stabilization of less ‘recalcitrant’ biomolecules in the POM fractions. Because also the abundance of lipids and lignin in clay-sized, mineral-associated SOM was substantially influenced by aggregation, the bioavailability of mineral-associated SOM likely increases after the destruction of intact soil structures.

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Acknowledgements

For their help in the laboratory we thank Livia Urbanski and Maria Greiner (TUM Freising, Germany). We also thank David Eissenstat, Professor of Woody Plant Physiology at the Pennsylvania State University, for his assistance, Dr. Werner Häusler (TUM Freising, Germany) for mineralogical analyses, and two anonymous reviewers whose comments helped to greatly improve the quality of the manuscript. The project was generously funded by the Helmholtz Association in the joint virtual institute VH-129 “Centre for Stable Isotope Analysis in Ecosystem Research”, the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB-0816935, OISE-0754731), the U.S. Department of Energy (Global Change Education Program), the European Association of Organic Geochemists, and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the research unit FOR1806 “SUBSOM - The Forgotten Part of Carbon Cycling: Organic Matter Storage and Turnover in Subsoils”.

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Correspondence to Gerrit Angst.

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Gerrit Angst and Kevin E. Mueller equally contributed to the manuscript.

Responsible Editor: Susan E. Crow.

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10533_2017_304_MOESM1_ESM.tiff

Online Resource 1 13C NMR spectra of initial, bulk soil (incub. bulk), and individually incubated fractions (incub. fract.). Supplementary material 1 (TIFF 36895 kb)

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Angst, G., Mueller, K.E., Kögel-Knabner, I. et al. Aggregation controls the stability of lignin and lipids in clay-sized particulate and mineral associated organic matter. Biogeochemistry 132, 307–324 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-017-0304-2

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Keywords

  • Incubation
  • Physical fractionation
  • GC/MS
  • 13C NMR
  • CuO
  • Soil organic matter