Denis, E. H., P. D. Ilhardt, A. E. Tucker, N. L. Huggett, J. J. Rosnow, and J. J. Moran. 2019. Spatially tracking carbon through the root–rhizosphere–soil system using laser ablation-IRMS. Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science 182:401-410.
The intimate relationships between plant roots, rhizosphere, and soil are fostered by the release of organic compounds from the plant into soil through various forms of rhizodeposition and the simultaneous harvesting of nutrients from the soil to the plant. Here we present a method to spatially track and map the migration of plant-derived carbon © through roots into the rhizosphere and surrounding soil using laser ablation-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (LA-IRMS). We used switchgrass microcosms containing soil from field plots at the Kellogg Biological Station (Hickory Corners, Michigan, USA) which have been cropped with switchgrass since 2008. We used a 13CO2 tracer to isotopically label switchgrass plants for two diel cycles and tracked subsequent movement of labeled C using the spatially specific (< 100 µm resolution) δ13C analysis enabled by LA-IRMS. This approach permitted assessment of variable C flow through different roots and enabled mapping of spatial variability of C allocation to the rhizosphere. Highly 13C-enriched C (consistent with production during the 13CO2 application period) extended ≈ 0.5?1 mm from the root into the soil, suggesting that the majority of recent plant-derived C was within this distance of the root after 48 h. Tracking the physical extent of root exudation into the rhizosphere can help evaluate the localization of plant-microbe interactions in highly variable subsurface environments, and the use of the isotopic label can differentiate freshly fixed C (presumably from root exudates) from other types of subsurface C (e.g., plant necromass and microbial turnover). The LA-IRMS technique may also serve as a valuable screening technique to identify areas of high activity for additional microbial or geochemical assays.
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