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Soil Carbon: 3 recent papers on soil carbon pathways

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Nico Eisenhauer, Arnaud Lanoue, Tanja Strecker, Stefan Scheu, Katja Steinauer, Madhav P. Thakur & Liesje Mommer Root biomass and exudates link plant diversity with soil bacterial and fungal biomass. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 44641 (2017) doi:10.1038/srep44641 Published online: 04 April 2017

Abstract: Plant diversity has been shown to determine the composition and functioning of soil biota. Although root-derived organic inputs are discussed as the main drivers of soil communities, experimental evidence is scarce. While there is some evidence that higher root biomass at high plant diversity increases substrate availability for soil biota, several studies have speculated that the quantity and diversity of root inputs into the soil, i.e. though root exudates, drive plant diversity effects on soil biota. Here we used a microcosm experiment to study the role of plant species richness on the biomass of soil bacteria and fungi as well as fungal-to-bacterial ratio via root biomass and root exudates. Plant diversity significantly increased shoot biomass, root biomass, the amount of root exudates, bacterial biomass, and fungal biomass. Fungal biomass increased most with increasing plant diversity resulting in a significant shift in the fungal-to-bacterial biomass ratio at high plant diversity. Fungal biomass increased significantly with plant diversity-induced increases in root biomass and the amount of root exudates. These results suggest that plant diversity enhances soil microbial biomass, particularly soil fungi, by increasing root-derived organic inputs.


Franciska Vriesa and Tancredi Carusob. Eating from the same plate? Revisiting the role of labile carbon inputs in the soil food web. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. Volume 102, November 2016, Pages 4-9



An increasing number of empirical studies are challenging the central fundamentals on which the classical soil food web model is built. This model assumes that bacteria consume labile substrates twice as fast as fungi, and that mycorrhizal fungi do not decompose organic matter. Here, we build on emerging evidence that points to significant consumption of labile C by fungi, and to the ability of ectomycorrhizal fungi to decompose organic matter, to show that labile C constitutes a major and presently underrated source of C for the soil food web. We use a simple model describing the dynamics of a recalcitrant and a labile C pool and their consumption by fungi and bacteria to show that fungal and bacterial populations can coexist in a stable state with large inputs into the labile C pool and a high fungal use of labile C. We propose a new conceptual model for the bottom trophic level of the soil food web, with organic C consisting of a continuous pool rather than two or three distinct pools, and saprotrophic fungi using substantial amounts of labile C. Incorporation of these concepts will increase our understanding of soil food web dynamics and functioning under changing conditions.

carbon pathway

Primary production inputs to soils occur through two pathways—in vivo turnover and ex vivo modification that jointly explain soil C dynamics driven by microbial catabolism and/or anabolism before entering the stable soil C pool. Even though the relative importance of in vivo turnover (red lines) and ex vivo modification (green lines) vary with different environmental scenarios, we argue that the majority of C that is persistent in soils occurs through coupling of the soil microbial carbon pump (MCP; associated with the in vivo turnover pathway) to stabilization via the entombing effect. The soil MCP is a conceptual object to demonstrate the fact that microbial necromass and metabolites can be the precursors for persistent soil C, which particularly highlights the importance of microbial anabolism in soil C storage. The yinyang symbol is used to create a sense of movement and illustrate that the movement is driven, but driven differently, by both bacteria and fungi with different trophic lifestyles.


Liang, C., Schimel, J. P. & Jastrow, J. D. The importance of anabolism in microbial control over soil carbon storageNature Microbiology 2, 17105 (2017).

Studies of the decomposition, transformation and stabilization of soil organic matter (SOM) have dramatically increased in recent years owing to growing interest in studying the global carbon (C) cycle as it pertains to climate change. While it is readily accepted that the magnitude of the organic C reservoir in soils depends upon microbial involvement, as soil C dynamics are ultimately the consequence of microbial growth and activity, it remains largely unknown how these microorganism-mediated processes lead to soil C stabilization. Here, we define two pathways—ex vivo modification and in vivo turnover—which jointly explain soil C dynamics driven by microbial catabolism and/or anabolism. Accordingly, we use the conceptual framework of the soil ‘microbial carbon pump’ (MCP) to demonstrate how microorganisms are an active player in soil C storage. The MCP couples microbial production of a set of organic compounds to their further stabilization, which we define as the entombing effect. This integration captures the cumulative long-term legacy of microbial assimilation on SOM formation, with mechanisms (whether via physical protection or a lack of activation energy due to chemical composition) that ultimately enable the entombment of microbial-derived C in soils. We propose a need for increased efforts and seek to inspire new studies that utilize the soil MCP as a conceptual guideline for improving mechanistic understandings of the contributions of soil C dynamics to the responses of the terrestrial C cycle under global change.

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