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Title: Microbial Mechanisms Enhancing Soil C Storage

Human activity has globally increased the amount of nitrogen (N) entering ecosystems, which could foster higher rates of C sequestration in the N-limited forests of the Northern Hemisphere. Presently, these ecosystems are a large global sink for atmospheric CO2, the magnitude of which could be influenced by the input of human-derived N from the atmosphere. Nevertheless, empirical studies and simulation models suggest that anthropogenic N deposition could have either an important or inconsequential effect on C storage in forests of the Northern Hemisphere, a set of observations that continues to fuel scientific discourse. Although a relatively simple set of physiological processes control the C balance of terrestrial ecosystems, we still fail to understand how these processes directly and indirectly respond to greater N availability in the environment. The uptake of anthropogenic N by N-limited forest trees and a subsequent enhancement of net primary productivity have been the primary mechanisms thought to increase ecosystem C storage in Northern Hemisphere forests. However, there are reasons to expect that anthropogenic N deposition could slow microbial activity in soil, decrease litter decay, and increase soil C storage. Fungi dominate the decay of plant detritus in forests and, under laboratory conditions, high inorganic N concentrationsmore » can repress the transcription of genes coding for enzymes which depolymerize lignin in plant detritus; this observation presents the possibility that anthropogenic N deposition could elicit a similar effect under field conditions. In our 18-yr-long field experiment, we have been able to document that simulated N deposition, at a rate expected in the near future, resulted in a significant decline in cellulolytic and lignolytic microbial activity, slowed plant litter decay, and increased soil C storage (+10%); this response is not portrayed in any biogeochemical model simulating the effect of atmospheric N deposition on ecosystem C storage. Our preliminary results support the hypothesis that simulated N deposition has down-regulated the transcription of fungal genes encoding lignocellulolytic enzymes, thereby slowing litter decay and substantially increasing soil C storage over a relative short duration. The objective of this study was to understand the molecular mechanisms and metabolic processes by which simulated N deposition has slowed microbial decay of plant detritus, thereby increasing soil C storage in the wide-spread and ecologically important northern forest ecosystem. We addressed our research objective using a combination of transcriptomic and metatranscriptomic approaches in parallel with biogeochemical analyses of soil C cycling. By linking the environmental regulation of microbial genes to biogeochemical processes, we endeavor to understanding the enhanced accumulation of soil C in response to a wide-spread agent of global change.« less
  1. Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI (United States)
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Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Basic Energy Sciences (BES) (SC-22)
Country of Publication:
United States