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Priming effect in semi-arid soils of northern Ethiopia under different land use types

Abstract

Input of organic carbon (C) to the soil stimulates soil microbial activity leading to changes in turnover of soil organic matter, a phenomenon referred to as priming effect (PE). However, contribution of various management forms in tropical drylands, the role of land use conversion and the soil depth at which such management induces altered PEs remain largely unclear. In this study, we quantified respiration and PE in semi-arid soils of northern Ethiopia. Soils from three depths (0–30, 30–60 and 60–90 cm) in forest, croplands, exclosure and grazing land use types were sampled. The soil samples were incubated for 23 days and PE and respiration quantified after addition of 14C labeled glucose corresponding to 50% of initial microbial biomass carbon (MBC). Generally, CO2 respired was 30–63% lower in sub than in topsoil with most expressed depth gradients in croplands. The weak negative PEs in subsoil is an indication of highly stabilized C. Contrary, glucose addition induced stronger positive PEs in topsoils collected from forest, exclosure and grazing land. The temporal dynamics of PEs involved a strong positive peak for the first five days after glucose addition and a second smaller peak 10 days after glucose addition in natural ecosystem, corresponding to apparent and real PE, respectively. Lack of positive correlation between PEs and C/N ratio ruled out the N-mining hypothesis, but a positive correlation between PE and MBC suggests co-metabolism as possible mechanism behind the real PE. Higher priming in natural ecosystem compared to cropland is an indication that conversion of natural ecosystem to continuous cropping system leads to depletion of the “primable” C pool in dryland soils. Additionally, this land use conversion negatively affects biogeochemical C cycling by an altered response of soil microbes to C input.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for the financial support of Chukwuebuka Christopher Okolo (CCO) under the Green Talents—International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development Program. The scholarship support of Transdisciplinary Training for Resource Efficiency and Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (TRECC Africa II) to CCO is highly appreciated. Special thanks to the African-German Network of Excellence in Science (AGNES), BMBF and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) for the 2021 AGNES Grant for Junior Researchers granted to CCO. The final draft of the manuscript was completed when CCO was at the University of Vienna Austria, Center for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science, under the OeAD and BMBWF scholarship. We thank the Robert Bosch Foundation for funding the Robert-Bosch Junior Professor Michaela Dippold, who initiated the collaboration with Ethiopian institutes based on this grant, initiating this project. The authors would also like to appreciate Karin Schmidt and Callum Banfield in a very special way for their laboratory assistance.

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Okolo, C.C., Bore, E., Gebresamuel, G. et al. Priming effect in semi-arid soils of northern Ethiopia under different land use types. Biogeochemistry 158, 383–403 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-022-00905-z

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Keywords

  • Ethiopian drylands
  • Glucose
  • Land use
  • Mineralization
  • Priming effect
  • Soil organic matter