Kim, K., A. Kaestner, M. Lucas, and A. N. Kravchenko. 2023. Microscale spatiotemporal patterns of water, soil organic carbon, and enzymes in plant litter detritusphere. Geoderma 438:116625.

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Understanding biophysical and biochemical processes in detritusphere is critical to quantifying and modeling plant residue decomposition dynamics and subsequent soil organic carbon © accrual. The objectives of the study were to explore (i) micro-environmental conditions within the detritusphere formed around decomposing corn and soybean leaves, and (ii) the relationships between moisture distribution, enzyme activity, and C dynamics during decomposition. We assessed spatial and temporal dynamics of moisture distribution using X-ray and neutron computed tomography, and activities of β-glucosidase and chitinase, two enzymes involved in soil C and N processing, using zymography. We used 13C labeled residue to track residue contribution to atmospheric CO2 and soil organic C. Moisture redistribution pattern varied depending on the residue type. While the water was immediately absorbed by the corn leaves and maintained afterward, switchgrass leaves absorbed water more slowly and created water-deficient zones within ∼1mm from the residue. This initial moisture depletion led to lower chitinase activity and residue-derived CO2 emissions in switchgrass. In contrast to chitinase, β-glucosidase activity was influenced by a combination of vegetation history and residue type, and it was higher when the origin of the residue matched the vegetation history of the soil. Pore size had an opposite impact on the studied enzymes, supporting the notion that contrasting soil pore architecture can stimulate activities of different enzymes through a selection of dominant enzyme producers. We concluded that the decomposition dynamics of plant residues is not only a simple function of residue chemistry, but rather a combined effect of the vegetation history, in part through its effect on microbial community composition, the plant residue chemical and likely physical characteristics, and the soil pore structure in the detritusphere. Together, they create temporally dynamic micro-environmental conditions influencing decomposition. Specifically, our study demonstrated that the initial micro-environment formulated in detritusphere can play an important role in enzyme activities and consequent C dynamics.

DOI: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2023.116625

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