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Data from: The vertical distribution and control of microbial necromass carbon in forest soils

Cite this dataset

Ni, Xiangyin et al. (2021). Data from: The vertical distribution and control of microbial necromass carbon in forest soils [Dataset]. Dryad.


Aim: Forest soils contain large amounts of terrestrial organic carbon (C), but the formation pathway of soil organic C (SOC) remains unclear. Recent evidence suggests that microbial necromass is a significant source of SOC, yet a global quantitative assessment across the whole-soil profile is lacking. We aimed to assess the vertical distribution and control of microbial-derived SOC in forest soils.

Location: Global forests.

Time period: 1996-2019.

Major taxa studied: Soil microbial necromass carbon.

Methods: We evaluated the proportions of fungal and bacterial necromass C in total SOC in the litter layer, O horizon soil, and various depths of mineral soil in forests using microbial biomarker (glucosamine and muramic acid) data.

Results: The total microbial necromass C increased significantly with soil depth, ranging from 30% of SOC in O horizon soil to 62% of SOC in mineral soils below 50 cm. However, only bacterial necromass C followed this increasing trend with soil depth; fungal necromass C showed little variation across the whole-soil profile. Higher fungal and bacterial necromass C was observed in soils with lower C/N ratios and smaller aggregate sizes. Soil C/N ratio and microbial biomass C dominantly determined microbial necromass C in surface soil (above 20 cm), but soil clay content was the primary factor in subsoil (below 20 cm).

Main conclusions: Microbial necromass C accounted for high percentages of the total SOC in forest soils (particularly at depths >20 cm), but its long-term stabilization may be governed by different mechanisms at different soil horizons. Substrate quality regulates microbial activity and then controls biomass turnover in surface soil, while aggregate occlusion could facilitate mineral protection of microbial necromass C in subsoil. These differential controls of microbial-derived organic C could be applied in Earth system studies for predicting soil organic C dynamics in forests.