Science Inventory

Soil drying effects on the carbon isotope composition of soil respiration

Citation:

Phillips, C. L., N. Nickerson, D. Risk, Z. E. Kayler, W. D. RUGH, A. Mix, AND B. J. Bond. Soil drying effects on the carbon isotope composition of soil respiration. Presented at American Geophysical Union meeting, San Francisco, CA, December 15 - 19, 2008.

Impact/Purpose:

Stable isotopes are used widely as a tool for determining sources of carbon (C) fluxes in ecosystem C studies

Description:

Stable isotopes are used widely as a tool for determining sources of carbon (C) fluxes in ecosystem C studies. Environmental factors that change over time, such as moisture, can create dynamic changes in the isotopic composition of C assimilated by plants, and offers a unique opportunity to distinguish fast-responding plant C from slower-responding soil C pools, which under steady-state conditions may be too similar isotopically to partition. Monitoring the isotopic composition of soil respiration over a period of changing moisture conditions is potentially a useful approach for characterizing plant contributions to soil respiration. But this partitioning hinges on the assumption that any change in the isotopic signature of soil respiration is solely due to recent photosynthetic discrimination, and that post-photosynthetic processes, such as microbial respiration, do not discriminate as moisture decreases. The purpose of the present study is to test the assumption that 13CO2 from microbial respiration remains static as soil dries. We conducted a series of greenhouse experiments employing different techniques to isolate microbial respiration from root respiration. The first involves removing roots from soil, and showed that when roots are present, respiration from dry soil is enriched in 13C relative to moist soil, but when roots are absent, respiration is isotopically similar from moist and dry soils. This indicates that rhizospheric respiration changes isotopically with moisture whereas soil microbial respiration does not. In contrast, a second experiment in which soil columns without plants were monitored as they dried, showed respiration from very dry soil to be enriched by 8/‰ relative to moist soil. However, simulations with an isotopologue-based soil gas diffusion model demonstrate that at least a portion of the apparent enrichment is due to non-steady state gas transport processes. Careful sampling methodologies which prevent or account for non-steady-state effects are necessary to avoid spurious correlations between measured d13CO2 and soil moisture. A third experiment, using closed-system soil incubations to avoid non-steady state mixing with atmospheric CO2, indicates that the isotopic composition of microbial soil respiration appears to be unchanging under a large range of soil moisture contents.

Record Details:

Record Type: DOCUMENT (PRESENTATION/ABSTRACT)
Product Published Date: 12/15/2008
Record Last Revised: 07/20/2009
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 199926

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS RESEARCH LABORATORY

WESTERN ECOLOGY DIVISION

ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS BRANCH