Seasonal variation in soluble soil carbon and nitrogen across a grassland productivity gradient

Mark Farrell, Paul W. Hill, John Farrar, Richard D. Bardgett, Davey L. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the fate and turnover of the pools that comprise dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in soil is key to determining its role in ecosystem functioning. We investigated seasonal changes of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) concentrations within four molecular weight (MW) size fractions across an altitudinal gradient (from lowland to montane systems), and quantified individual amino acids and amino acid constituents of oligopeptidic-N, as well as nitrate and ammonium. We tested two ideas: first, that DON is more abundant than DIN in low-productivity relative to high-productivity grassland ecosystems; and second, that the abundance of peptides and amino acids is likewise greater in low- than high-productivity grassland. The most productive site had a history of inorganic fertiliser application, and hence in this site alone DIN was more abundant than DON. Plant productivity varied 3-fold between the other sites, and DON was generally at higher concentrations in the sites of lower productivity both in absolute terms as well as relative to DIN, with a large increase observed in spring. The fraction containing the highest concentration of the DON had a MW of >100 kDa, and in summer and autumn this fraction was more abundant at the lowest productivity site. We conclude that relationships between the abundance of DON relative to DIN and ecosystem productivity is dependent on season, and hence more complex than previously suggested, and that peptides are a dynamic and potentially nutritionally significant component of DON.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)835-844
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


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