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Decoupling of topsoil and subsoil controls on organic matter dynamics in the Swiss Alps

Abstract : Our understanding of mechanisms governing soil organic matter (OM) stability is evolving. It is gradually becoming accepted that soil OM stability is not primarily regulated by the molecular structure of plant inputs, but instead by the biotic and abiotic properties of the edaphic environment. Moreover, several experimental studies conducted in artificial systems have suggested that mechanisms regulating OM stability may differ with depth in the soil profile. Up to now however, there is very limited field-scale evidence regarding the hierarchy of controls on soil OM dynamics and their changes with soil depth. In this study, we take advantage of the high heterogeneity of ecological conditions occurring in the alpine belt to identify the major determinants of OM dynamics and how their significance varies with depth in the soil profile. Aboveground litter, mineral topsoil, and subsoil samples originating from 46 soil profiles spanning a wide range of soil and vegetation types were analysed. We used Rock-Eval pyrolysis, a technique that investigates the thermal stability of OM, as an indicator of OM dynamics. Our results show a clear divergence in predictors of OM thermal stability in the litter, topsoil, and subsoil layers. The composition of OM correlated with its thermal stability in the litter layer but not in mineral soil horizons, where the supply rate of fresh organic material and the physical and chemical characteristics of the pedogenic environment appeared important instead. This study offers direct confirmation that soil OM dynamics are influenced by different ecosystem properties in each soil layer. This has important implications for our understanding of carbon cycling in soils under a changing climate.
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Contributor : Pierre Weill <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, January 16, 2019 - 11:33:49 AM
Last modification on : Friday, May 29, 2020 - 1:38:02 AM

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Magali Matteodo, Stephanie Grand, David Sebag, Mike Rowley, Pascal Vittoz, et al.. Decoupling of topsoil and subsoil controls on organic matter dynamics in the Swiss Alps. Geoderma, Elsevier, 2018, 330, pp.41-51. ⟨10.1016/j.geoderma.2018.05.011⟩. ⟨hal-01983157⟩



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