Pulse-labeling studies of carbon cycling in arctic tundra ecosystems: Contribution of photosynthates to soil organic matter

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To increase our understanding of carbon (C) cycling and storage in soils, we used 14C to trace C from roots into four soil organic matter (SOM) fractions and the movement of soil microbes in arctic wet sedge and tussock tundra. For both tundra types, the proportion of 14C activity in the soil was 6% of the total 14C-CO2 taken up by plants at each of the four harvests conducted 1, 7, 21, and 68 days after labeling. In tussock tundra, we observed rapid microbial transformation of labile C from root exudates into more stable SOM. In wet sedge tundra, there appears to be delayed or indirect microbial use of root exudates. The net amount of 14C label transfered to SOM by the end of the season in both tundra types was approximately equal to the amount transferred to soils 1 day after labeling, suggesting that transfer of 14C tracer from roots to soils continued through the growing season. Overall, C inputs from living roots contributes 24 g C m-2 yr-1 in tussock tundra and 8.8 g C m-2 yr-1 in wet sedge tundra. These results suggest rapid belowground allocation of C by plants and subsequent incorporation of much of this C into storage in the SOM.

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Global Biogeochemical Cycles