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Meta-analysis of glucose tracing studies


Geyer, Kevin et al. (2020), Meta-analysis of glucose tracing studies, Dryad, Dataset,


A longstanding assumption of glucose tracing experiments is that all glucose is microbially utilized during short incubations of ≤2 days to become microbial biomass or carbon dioxide. Carbon use efficiency (CUE) estimates have consequently ignored the formation of residues (non-living microbial products) although such materials could represent an important sink of glucose that is prone to stabilization as soil organic matter. We examined the dynamics of microbial residue formation from a short tracer experiment with frequent samplings over 72 h, and conducted a meta-analysis of previously published glucose tracing studies to assess the generality of these experimental results. Both our experiment and meta-analysis indicated 30–34% of amended glucose-C (13C or 14C) was in the form of residues within the first 6 h of substrate addition. We expand the conventional efficiency calculation to include residues in both the numerator and denominator of efficiency, thereby deriving a novel metric of the potential persistence of glucose-C in soil as living microbial biomass plus residues (‘carbon stabilization efficiency’). This new metric indicates nearly 40% of amended glucose-C persists in soil 180 days after amendment, the majority as non-biomass residues. Starting microbial biomass and clay content emerge as critical factors that positively promote such long term stabilization of labile C. Rapid residue production supports the conclusion that non-growth maintenance activity can illicit high demands for C in soil, perhaps equaling that directed towards growth, and that residues may have an underestimated role in the cycling and sequestration potential of C in soil.


We conducted a meta-analysis of previously published data. The search for relevant studies was conducted using the online ISI Web of Science Core Collection in September 2018. Search criteria were “C-13 AND glucose AND soil” (264 results) and “C-14 AND glucose AND soil” (378 results). Search criteria resulted in a final list of 315 observations from 18 studies. Data presented in graphical form were gleaned using PlotDigitizer X (v. 2.0.1).


U.S. Department of Energy, Award: DE-S0016590

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Award: Hatch 1003421