|Weijers, JWH; Wiesenberg, GLB; Bol, R; Hopmans, E; Pancost, RD: Carbon isotopic composition of branched tetraether membrane lipids in soils suggest a rapid turnover and a heterotrophic life style of their source organism(s), Biogeosciences, 7, 2959-2973 (2010)|
Branched Glycerol Dialkyl Glycerol Tetraethers (GDGTs) are membrane spanning lipids synthesised by as yet unknown bacteria that thrive in soils and peat. In order to obtain more information on their ecological niche, the stable carbon isotopic composition of branched GDGT-derived alkanes, obtained upon ether bond cleavage, has been determined in a peat and various soils, i.e. forest, grassland and cropland, covered by various vegetation types, i.e., C3- vs. C4-plant type. These δ13C values are compared with those of bulk organic matter and higher plant derived n-alkanes from the same soils. With average δ13C values of −28‰, branched GDGTs in C3 soils are only slightly depleted (ca. 1‰) relative to bulk organic carbon and on average 8.5‰ enriched relative to plant wax-derived long-chain n-alkanes ( nC29–nC33). In an Australian soil dominantly covered with C4 type vegetation, the branched GDGTs have a δ13C value of −18‰, clearly higher than observed in soils with C3 type vegetation. As with C3 vegetated soils, branched GDGT δ13C values are slightly depleted (1‰) relative to bulk organic carbon and enriched (ca. 5‰) relative to n-alkanes in this soil. The δ13C values of branched GDGT lipids being similar to bulk organic carbon and their co-variation with those of bulk organic carbon and plant waxes, suggest a heterotrophic life style and assimilation of relatively heavy and likely labile substrates for the as yet unknown soil bacteria that synthesise the branched GDGT lipids. However, a chemoautotrophic lifestyle, i.e. consuming respired CO2, could not be fully excluded based on these data alone. Based on a natural labelling experiment of a C3/C4 crop change introduced on one of the soils 23 years before sampling and based on a free-air CO2 enrichment experiment with labelled CO2 on another soil, a turnover time of ca. 18 years has been estimated for branched GDGTs in these arable soils.
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