Seasonal variations in the chemical composition of dissolved organic matter in organic forest floor layer leachates of old-growth Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) stands in northeastern Bavaria, Germany
Organic matter dissolved in thepercolation water of forest soils contributeslargely to element cycling and transport ofnatural and anthropogenic compounds. The wayand extent to which these processes areaffected depends on the amount and the chemicalcomposition of soluble organic matter. Becausethe amount of soluble organic matter variesseasonally with changes in the microbialactivity in soil, it seems reasonable to assumethat there may be also seasonal changes in thechemical composition of dissolved organicmatter. We examined dissolved organic matter inthe seepage waters of organic forest floorlayers over a 27-month period (1997–1999) intwo forest ecosystems, a 160-year-old Scotspine (Pinus sylvestris L.) stand and a90-year-old European beech (Fagussylvatica L.) forest. The forest floorleachates were analysed for bulk dissolvedorganic C, C in hydrophilic and hydrophobicdissolved organic matter fractions,lignin-derived phenols (CuO oxidation),hydrolysable neutral carbohydrates and uronicacids, hydrolysable amino sugars, and stablecarbon isotope composition. In addition, westudied the samples by use of liquid-state13C-nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)spectroscopy.
For both investigated forest sites we foundthat the dissolved organic carbonconcentrations in forest floor leachates werelargest during summer. They peaked after rainstorms following short dry periods (106–145 mgdissolved organic C l−1). The proportionsof C in the hydrophilic fractions were largestin winter and spring whereas in summer andautumn more C was found in the hydrophobicfraction. According to liquid-state 13C-NMR spectroscopy, summer and autumn samples hadlarger abundances of aromatic and aliphaticstructures as well as larger proportions ofcarboxyl groups whereas the winter and springsamples were dominated by resonances indicatingcarbohydrates. Wet-chemical analyses confirmedthese results. Winter and spring samples wererich in neutral carbohydrates and amino sugars.The summer and autumn samples contained morelignin-derived phenols which were also strongeroxidised than those in the winter and springsamples. Seasonal changes of δ13C valueswere found to reflect the changes in thechemical composition of dissolved organicmatter. Most negative values occurred whenisotopically light lignin-derived compoundswere abundant and less negative values whencarbohydrates predominated.
The different vegetation, age of thestands, and underlying mineral soils resultedin different concentrations of dissolvedorganic carbon and in differences in thedistribution between hydrophobic andhydrophilic organic carbon. Despite of this,the results suggest that the trends in temporalvariations in the composition of dissolvedorganic matter in forest floor seepage waterwere remarkably similar for both sites.Dissolved organic matter in winter and springseems to be mainly controlled by leaching offresh disrupted biomass debris with a largecontribution of bacterial and fungal-derivedcarbohydrates and amino sugars. Dissolvedorganic matter leached from the forest floor insummer and autumn is controlled by thedecomposition processes in the forest floorresulting in the production of stronglyoxidised, water-soluble aromatic and aliphaticcompounds. The chemical composition ofdissolved organic matter in forest floorseepage water in winter and spring indicateslarger mobility, larger biodegradability, andless interaction with metals and organicpollutants than that released during summer andautumn. Thus, the impact of dissolved organicmatter on transport processes may varythroughout the year due to changes in itscomposition.