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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Kalbitz, K; Schwesig, D; Schmerwitz, J; Kaiser, K; Haumaier, L; Glaser, B; Ellerbrock, R; Leinweber, P: Changes in properties of soil-derived dissolved organic matter induced by biodegradation, Soil Biology Biochemistry, 35, 1129-1142 (2003)
Properties of dissolved organic matter (DOM) determine its biodegradation. In turn, biodegradation changes the properties of the remaining DOM, which may be decisive for the formation of stable organic carbon in soil. To gain information on both mechanisms and controlling factors of DOM biodegradation and the properties of biodegraded DOM, we investigated changes in the composition of 13 different DOM samples extracted from maize straw, forest floors, peats, and agricultural soils during a 90-day incubation using UV absorbance, fluorescence emission spectroscopy, FTIR-spectroscopy, 1H-NMR spectroscopy, pyrolysis-field ionization mass spectroscopy (Py-FIMS), and 13C natural abundance before and after incubation. Changes in the DOM properties were related to the extent of biodegradation determined by the release of CO2. Increasing UV absorption and humification indices deduced from fluorescence emission spectra, and increasing portions of aromatic H indicated relative enrichment of aromatic compounds during biodegradation. This enrichment significantly correlated with the amount of DOC mineralized suggesting that aromatic compounds were relatively stable and slowly mineralized. 13C depletion during the incubation of highly degradable DOM solutions indicated an enrichment of lignin-derived aromatic compounds. Py-FI mass spectra indicated increasing contents of phenols and lignin monomers at the expense of lignin dimers and alkylaromatics during incubation. This partial degradation of higher-molecular, lignin-derived DOM compounds was accompanied by relative increases in the proportions of lower-molecular degradation products and microbial metabolites. Carbohydrates, especially when abundant at high initial contents, seem to be the preferred substrate for microorganisms. However, four independent methods suggested also some microbial production of carbohydrates and peptides during DOM degradation. After incubation, the composition of highly degradable DOM samples became similar to relatively stable DOM samples with respect to aromaticity, carbohydrate content, and thermal stability. We conclude that DOM biodegradation seems to result in organic matter properties being a precondition for the formation of stable carbon. These structural changes induced by DOM biodegradation should also result in stronger DOM sorption to the soil matrix additionally affecting DOM stabilization.
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