Soil organic matter dynamics in a temperate forest influenced by extreme weather events
- Climate models predict an increase in surface temperature and a change in intensity and kind of precipitation in the future for Europe depending on the region with effects on C cycling and soil organic matter (SOM). We investigated the influence of extreme weather events (frost/drought) on the quality and quantity of SOM in a Haplic Podzol under a 140 years old Norway spruce forest in the Fichtelgebirge mountains (Bavaria, German) within two laboratory and two field studies. In one laboratory study, we investigated the effect of frost intensity and repeated freeze/thaw cycles. Undisturbed soil columns comprising organic layer and top mineral soil were treated as followed: Control (+5 °C), frost at –3 °C, –8 °C and –13 °C. After a two-week freezing period, frozen soils were thawed at +5 °C and irrigated with 80 mm water at a rate of 4 mm per day. After the third cycle, SOM pools of the treatments were compared with those of non-dried control columns. Under field conditions from late December 2005 until middle of February 2006 we removed the natural snow cover during winter on three replicate plots. Hence we induced soil frost to 15 cm depth (in a depth of 5 cm below surface up to -5°C) from January to April 2006, while the snow-covered control plots never reached temperatures below 0 °C. In the second laboratory experiment after air-drying for five weeks, undisturbed soil columns were re-wetted at different intensities (8, 20 and 50 mm per day) and time intervals, so that all treatments received the same amount of water per cycle (100 mm). After the third cycle, SOM pools of the treatments were compared with those of non-dried control columns. Under field conditions, a throughfall exclusion (TE) experiment was conducted in the summers 2006 and 2007 using a roof installation followed by re-wetting compared to non-manipulated control plots. On 18th January 2007, the heavy low pressure system Kyrill caused large damages at our control plots whereas the TE sites were less influenced. Therefore, for this study, only data were used from the control plots before Kyrill and from the soil structure undisturbed TE plots. SOM quantity and quality was followed by biomarker analysis: lignin, neutral sugars and phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA) as measure for microbial biomass. Amounts of lignin contents were not significantly affected by repeated freeze/thaw cycles. However, intensive frost slightly enhanced lignin mobilization in the O layer and the translocation into the B horizon. While soil frost did not influence lignin concentrations, the decomposition rate of vanillyl monomers (Ac/Ad)v decreased at the end of the frost period, these results confirm reduced mineralisation under frost. In contrast, lignin phenols were not systematically affected by the drying/rewetting-experiment and the moisture regime. The sum of PLFA (soil microbial biomass) was not affected by the frost respectively drying event, suggesting that most soil microorganisms were well adapted or recovered more quickly than the accumulation of microbial residues such as microbial sugars directly after the experiment. However, PLFA patterns indicate that fungi are more susceptible to soil frost than bacteria. The ratio of fungi to bacteria were generally not altered through drying, however, at least in the L horizon, warmer and drier weather led to a dominance of fungi while a cooler and moister regime favoured bacteria. Increasing water stress was indicated by a higher PLFA (cy17:0+cy19:0)/ (16:1w7c+18:1w7c) ratio suggesting that the microbes suffered from water stress in the organic layer and uppermost mineral soil. While soil microbial biomass was not affected by the moisture regime, the structure of soil microbial community changed. Gram-positive bacteria and actinomycetes were reduced whereas gram-negative bacteria, fungi and protozoa were stimulated by the reduced moisture regime. In the subsequent summer after the freezing experience, soil microbial biomass was significantly higher at the snow-removal plots (SM) compared to the control despite lower CO2 respiration and increasing water stress indicator. These results suggest that soil microbial respiration and therefore the activity was not closely related to soil microbial biomass but more strongly controlled by substrate availability and quality. Both freezing/thawing and drying/re-wetting reduced the amount of microbial sugars due to reduced mineralisation. However, also the hydrolysable plant sugars decreased in all soil horizons. We postulated that the only possible explanation for the disappearance of plant and microbial sugars upon soil freezing or drying are chemical alterations of sugar molecules leading to SOM stabilization, also known as SOM aging. Further studies are required to quantify the effect of temperature or moisture regime to the observed changes in soil sugar concentrations.