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Title Ephemeral microbial responses to pulses of bioavailable carbon in oxic and anoxic salt marsh soils
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Roots of salt marsh grasses contribute to soil building but also affect decomposition by releasing bioavailable carbon exudates and oxygen. Disentangling exudate and oxygen effects on decomposition is difficult in the field but essential for marsh carbon models and predicting the impacts of global change disturbances. We tested how pulsed, simulated exudates affect soil metabolism under oxic and anoxic conditions, and whether carbon and oxygen availability facilitate mineralization of existing organic matter (i.e., priming). We conducted a laboratory experiment in flow-through reactors, adding carbon pulses weekly for 84 days and then following starvation under low carbon conditions. Oxygen consumption and sulfide production were inhibited under anoxic and oxic conditions and slowed by 21 ± 10% and 55 ± 8%, respectively, between 1- and 5- days following exudate pulses. Respiration rates immediately following and between pulses increased over time, suggesting that microbes capitalize on and may acclimate to patchy resources. Starvation caused oxygen consumption and sulfide production to fall 28% and 78% in oxic and anoxic treatments. Smaller decreases in oxygen consumption following pulses could suggest greater access to secondary carbon sources and that sulfate reducers were more reliant on exudates. Soil organic carbon was not the likely secondary source because porewater dissolved inorganic carbon δ13C values did not change during transit through the reactors, despite a ∼26 difference between the supplied seawater and marsh soil. Interpretation of oxygen consumption rates is complicated by non-respiratory oxidation of reduced inorganic compounds and possibly significant lithoautotrophy. Exudate pulses elicited rapid and ephemeral respiratory responses, particularly under anoxia, but non-respiratory oxidation of reduced compounds obscured the impact of oxygen availability in our experimental system. Despite this, greater aerobic respiration rates suggest that oxygen availability has more potential to regulate carbon mineralization in coastal wetlands than root exudates.

Contributors Amanda C. Spivak, Andrew J. Pinsonneault, Christopher Hintz, J. Brandes and Patrick Megonigal

Spivak, A.C., Pinsonneault, A.J., Hintz, C., Brandes, J. and Megonigal, P. 2023. Ephemeral microbial responses to pulses of bioavailable carbon in oxic and anoxic salt marsh soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 185. (DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2023.109157)

Key Words Organic carbon, Priming, Redox, Rhizosphere, Salt marsh, Sulfur oxidation
File Date 2023
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grants OCE-9982133, OCE-0620959, OCE-1237140 and OCE-1832178. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.