Direct evidence for microbial-derived soil organic matter formation and its ecophysiological controls by Cynthia M. Kallenbach
Soil organic matter (SOM) and the carbon and nutrients therein drive fundamental submicron- to global-scale biogeochemical processes and influence carbon-climate feedbacks. Consensus is emerging that microbial materials are an important constituent of stable SOM, and new conceptual and quantitative SOM models are rapidly incorporating this view. However, direct evidence demonstrating that microbial residues account for the chemistry, stability and abundance of SOM is still lacking. Further, emerging models emphasize the stabilization of microbial-derived SOM by abiotic mechanisms, while the effects of microbial physiology on microbial residue production remain unclear. Here we provide the first direct evidence that soil microbes produce chemically diverse, stable SOM. We show that SOM accumulation is driven by distinct microbial communities more so than clay mineralogy, where microbial-derived SOM accumulation is greatest in soils with higher fungal abundances and more efficient microbial biomass production.