Lower mineralizability of soil carbon with higher legacy soil moisture

Srabani Das, Brian K. Richards, Kelly L. Hanley, Leilah Krounbi, M. F. Walter, M. Todd Walter, Tammo S. Steenhuis, Johannes Lehmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The effect of long-term versus short-term water content on soil organic carbon (SOC) mineralizability was evaluated in a six-week incubation trial. Soils were sampled from field sites in upstate New York used for rain-fed bioenergy crop production: nitrogen (N)- fertilized reed canarygrass, switchgrass, switchgrass + N, as well as a broadleaf-grass fallow. Within each cropping system, natural moisture gradients due to topography and subsoil structure allowed us to sample across regions with high (0.5 g g −1 ), mid (0.4 g g −1 ) and low (0.3 g g −1 ) water content. Moisture of the laboratory incubations was adjusted mimicking the three average field moisture levels in a full factorial design. Increasing laboratory moisture in the incubations increased cumulative carbon mineralization per unit soil (C mineralization) and cumulative C mineralization per unit SOC (C mineralizability) (main effect p < 0.0001), indicating that lower average moisture as found at this site on average limited mineralization but higher average moisture did not. C mineralizability at high field moisture was 31% (25-42%) lower than at low field moisture across all cropping systems, regardless of moisture adjustment in the incubation. The mean slow C pool size of soils from high field moisture sites (997.1 ± 0.1 mg C g −1 C) was 0.2% greater than that of soils from low field moisture sites (p < 0.0001), obtained by fitting a double-exponential model. The mean residence time of the slow mineralizing C pool for soils from low field moisture sites was 5.5 ± 0.1 years, in comparison to 8.0 ± 0.1 years for soils from high field moisture sites (p < 0.0001). While permanganate-oxidizable carbon (POXC) per unit SOC (r = 0.1) was positively correlated to C mineralizability, wet aggregate stability (r = −0.2) was negatively correlated to C mineralizability. Above-ground biomass did not affect C mineralizability (p > 0.05) and root biomass marginally influenced (p = 0.05) C mineralizability after correcting for soil texture variations. Additionally, after correcting for soil texture variations and biomass inputs, C mineralizability significantly decreased with higher field moisture (p = 0.02), indicating possible stabilization mechanisms through mineral interactions of SOC under high water content. Bulk contents of pedogenic iron and aluminum determined by oxalate extraction did not clearly explain differences in mineralizability. However, exchangeable calcium and magnesium contents were significantly (p < 0.0001) greater in high moisture soils than soils with lower moisture. Additionally, cumulative C mineralizability at 6 weeks was negatively correlated to calcium (r = −0.7) and magnesium (r = −0.6) and mean residence time of the modeled slow pool correlated positively with calcium (r = 0.4). Therefore, cation bridging by retained or illuviated base ions was more important than redox changes of iron as a stabilization mechanism in this experiment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-104
Number of pages11
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Soil moisture
  • Soil organic matter
  • Stabilization
  • Turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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