Microbial responses to the erosional redistribution of soil organic carbon in arable fields.

Jennifer A.J. Dungait, Claire Ghee, John S. Rowan, Blair M. McKenzie, Cathy Hawes, Elisabeth R. Dixon, Eric Paterson, David W. Hopkins

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    47 Citations (Scopus)


    Quantifying the potential for eroding agricultural soils to act as sinks or sources of atmospheric carbon relies on accounting for the pools and fluxes of soil organic carbon (SOC) and nutrients, e.g. nitrogen (N), affected by erosion. Herein, we report the outcomes of an experiment where a C maize (Zea mays) crop (dC = -12.1‰) was cultivated and incorporated for 2 years to introduce a 'pulse' of C-enriched SOC to a C arable soil (dC = -27.4‰). Soils were sampled at eroding (top slope and upper slope) and depositional (lower slope and slope foot) positions of an accelerated erosion pathway that were confirmed using Cs measurements. The sand particle-sized fraction (63-2000 µm) was predominant and increased in the depositional slope positions due to selective loss of fine particles and preferential deposition of the coarsest fraction of transported sediment. There was a significant isometric relationship between the percentage SOC and total N: top slope > upper slope > lower slope, with similar values in the slope foot to the top slope. The dN values of the soils were enriched (7.3‰) at the slope foot, compared with the other slope positions (average 6.3‰), suggesting increased denitrification rates. The dC values of the soil microbial biomass C extracted from surface soils (0-5 cm) at each slope position showed that the proportion of maize C being incorporated into the soil microbial biomass declined in the downslope direction from 54% (top slope) to 43% (upper slope) to 18% (lower slope) in inverse proportion to the size of the soil microbial biomass, and increased to 41% at the slope foot. This suggests dynamic replacement of the SOC with crop C in the eroding slope positions and dilution of the transported C by C3-SOC in the depositional slope positions. This paper is evidence that erosional distribution of soil carbon leads to differential microbial utilisation of SOC between eroding and depositional sites. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)195-201
    Number of pages7
    JournalSoil Biology & Biochemistry
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Soil erosion
    • Nitrogen cycling
    • Carbon cycling
    • Soil microbial biomass
    • Agriculture


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