Soil organic matter (SOM) contains two times more carbon than the atmosphere and the potential changes to SOM quantity and quality with global warming are a major concern. It is commonly believed that global warming will accelerate the decomposition of labile SOM compounds while refractory SOM constituents will remain stable. However, experimental evidence of molecular-level changes to SOM composition with global warming is currently lacking. Here we employ SOM biomarkers and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study SOM composition and degradation in a soil warming experiment in southern Ontario, Canada. The soil warming experiment consisted of a control and a treatment plot in a mixed forest that had a temperature difference of about 5 degrees C for 14 months. Before soil warming the control and treatment plots had the same organic carbon (OC) content and SOM composition. Soil warming significantly increased soil OC content and the abundance of cutin-derived carbon originating from leaf tissues and decreased carbohydrates that are regarded as easily degradable. Lignin components, which are believed to be part of the stable and slowly-cycling SOM, were observed to be in an advanced stage of degradation. This observation is corroborated by increases in fungal biomass in the warmed soil because fungi are considered the primary decomposer of lignin in the soil environment. An NMR study of SOM in the warmed and control plots indicates that alkyl carbon, mainly originating from plant cuticles in the soil, increased in the warmed soil while O-alkyl carbon, primarily occurring in carbohydrates, decreased. Aromatic and phenolic carbon regions, which include the main structures found in lignin, decreased in the warmed soil. These data collectively suggest that there is a great potential for lignin degradation with soil warming, and that the refractory (aromatic) soil carbon storage may be reduced as a result of increased fungal growth in a warmer climate.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2007
- 1225 Global change from geodesy (1222;
- 4806 Carbon cycling (0428)