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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Widdig, M; Schleuss, P-M; Biedermann, L; Borer, E; Crawley, M; Kirkman, K; Seabloom, EW; Wragg, P; Spohn, M: Microbial carbon use efficiency in grassland soils subjected to nitrogen and phosphorus additions, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 146, 107815 (2020), doi:10.1016/j.soilbio.2020.107815
Soil microbial carbon use efficiency (CUE), defined as the ratio between carbon (C) allocated to growth and C taken up by microorganisms, is pivotal for the understanding of C cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. Soil microbial CUE is thought to increase under nitrogen (N) addition, thereby mediating the effects of atmospheric N deposition on C cycling in soils. We studied the effects of N, phosphorus (P), and combined N and P addition on soil microbial CUE from a total of six grassland soils from South Africa, USA, and UK. Microbial CUE varied between 25 and 57 % with a mean value of 40 % across all sites, depth increments, and treatments. Most of the site variability in microbial CUE was explained by sand content, mean annual precipitation and temperature, and the dissolved organic C:dissolved N ratio. Soil microbial CUE as well as microbial biomass turnover time were robust to changes in N, P, and NP supply. However, N addition significantly reduced microbial respiration and C uptake in the topsoil. Taken together, N, P, and NP addition did not influence microbial CUE and biomass turnover time in grassland soils on different continents, indicating that microbial CUE varies little despite large changes in element inputs. Consequently, increased N inputs to soil may have a smaller impact on microbial CUE and biomass turnover time, and therefore C cycling in grassland soils, than expected and models assuming increased CUE with increasing N inputs could overestimate future C storage. 
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