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Soil carbon saturation: Implications for measurable carbon pool dynamics in long-term incubations

Stewart, C.E., Paustian, K., Conant, R.T., Plante, A.F., Six, J.
2 009
Soil Biology & Biochemistry
The efficiency of agricultural management practices to store SOC depends on C input level and how far a soil is from its saturation level (i.e. saturation deficit). The C Saturation hypothesis suggests an ultimate soil C stabilization capacity defined by four SOM pools capable of C saturation: (1) non-protected, (2) physically protected, (3) chemically protected and (4) biochemically protected. We tested if C saturation deficit and the amount of added C influenced SOC storage in measurable soil fractions corresponding to the conceptual chemical, physical, biochemical, and non-protected C pools. We added two levels of C-13- labeled residue to soil samples from seven agricultural sites that were either closer to (i.e., A-horizon) or further from (i.e., C-horizon) their C saturation level and incubated them for 2.5 years. Residue-derived C stabilization was, in most sites, directly related to C saturation deficit but mechanisms of C stabilization differed between the chemically and biochemically protected pools. The physically protected C pool showed a varied effect of C saturation deficit on C-13 stabilization, due to opposite behavior of the POM and mineral fractions. We found distinct behavior between unaggregated and aggregated mineral-associated fractions emphasizing the mechanistic difference between the chemically and physically protected C-pools. To accurately predict SOC dynamics and stabilization, C Saturation of soil C pools, particularly the chemically and biochemically protected pools, should be considered. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
EES Authors: 
Alain F. Plante

Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316