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Complexity of Soil Organic Matter: AMS 14C Analysis of Soil Lipid Fractions and Individual Compounds

  • Janet Rethemeyer (a1), Christiane Kramer (a2), Gerd Gleixner (a2), Guido L B Wiesenberg (a3), Lorenz Schwark (a3), Nils Andersen (a1), Marie-J Nadeau (a1) and Pieter M Grootes (a1)...


Radiocarbon measurements of different lipid fractions and individual compounds, isolated from soil samples collected on 2 different agricultural long-term study sites, located in the rural area of Rotthalmünster (Germany) and in the city of Halle/Saale (Germany), were analyzed to obtain information about sources and the stability of soil organic matter (SOM). Different lipid compound classes were isolated by automated solvent extraction and subsequent medium-pressure liquid chromatography. Generally, 14C contents of lipid compound classes from topsoil samples of maize plots at Rotthalmünster are close to the modern atmospheric 14C content. Lower 14C values of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons isolated from neutral lipids suggest a contribution of old carbon to these fractions. In contrast, 14C values of bulk soil (52 pMC) as well as isolated lipid classes from Halle are highly depleted. This can be attributed to a significant contribution of fossil carbon at this site. Extremely low 14C contents of aromatic (7 pMC) and aliphatic hydrocarbons (19 pMC) reflect the admixture of fossil hydrocarbons at the Halle site. Individual phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA), which are used as a proxy for viable microbial biomass, were isolated by preparative capillary gas chromatography (PCGC) from topsoils at Rotthalmünster and Halle. PLFA 14C values are close to atmospheric 14C values and, thus, indicate a clear microbial preference for relatively young SOM. At Rotthalmünster, the 14C concentration of short-chain unsaturated PLFAs is not significantly different from that of the atmosphere, while the saturated PLFAs show a contribution of sub-recent SOM extending over the last decades. At Halle, up to 14% fossil carbon is incorporated in PLFAs n-C17:0 and cy-C18:0, which suggests the use of fossil carbon by soil microorganisms. Moreover, it can be concluded that the 14C age of soil carbon is not indicative of its stability.

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