Rhizodeposition and its effects on C fluxes in the soil
- Organic compounds released from living roots (rhizodeposits) are easily available sources of energy for microorganisms strongly affecting soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics. Although, rhizodeposition is a key driver of microbially mediated processes in the soils, it still remains the most uncertain component of the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle.
The input of C through rhizodeposition occurs in temporal and spatial hotspots. The objective of Study 1 was to determine the dynamics of hotspots of recently assimilated C in ryegrass roots. Shoots were 14CO2 pulse labeled and the allocation patterns at increasing time intervals were visualized by phosphor imaging. We could show a quick translocation of assimilated C to the roots. 14C hotspots were detected at the root tips already 6 hours after labeling. The hotspots remained active for at least 2 days. Eleven days after assimilation the hotspots at the tips had disappeared, and the 14C distribution was much more even than after 6 hours and 2 days.
Through the availability of rhizodeposits, hotspots create preferred habitats for microbes. Rhizodeposits are an important source of C and energy for microorganisms stimulating their growth and activity. Thereby, roots can influence the rate of native SOM decomposition in the rhizosphere. This rhizosphere priming effect (RPE) was reported to be plant-species specific. Therefore, we hypothesized that also plant inter-species interactions affect the RPE.
In Study 2, we used continuous 13CO2 labeling to investigate the RPE of monocultures and mixtures of typical agricultural crops. The RPE was consistently positive for all cultures with an increase of 43% - 136% above the unplanted soil. Of particular interest was the result that plant inter-species interactions between sunflower and wheat significantly reduced the RPE in contrast to mixtures which included soybean as a legume. It was argued that the RPE of the sunflower-wheat mixture was reduced through a more severe competition for nitrogen (N), whereas, due to the N-rich rhizodeposits of the legume and its lower demand for soil mineral N the RPE of the legume containing mixtures remained unaffected.
Besides potential plant-specific differences in the quality and quantity of rhizodeposits, also photosynthesis could control root exudation because of the fast transport of recently assimilated C to belowground pools. Taking both factors into account, in Studies 3 and 4 the effect of limited photosynthesis on the distribution of recently assimilated C, of stored C and of N was investigated. Based on 13C, 14C and 15N labeling of a legume and a non-legume we could demonstrate that high C and N demands of regrowing shoots after clipping led to a remobilization of stored C and N to the shoots. Additionally, recently assimilated C was retained in the regrowing shoots.
Shading, in contrast, did not induce a remobilization of stored C, since recently assimilated C obviously covered the demand of the shoots with lower growth rates. For both treatments lower amounts of recently assimilated C were observed in the belowground pools emphasizing the importance of the tight coupling of assimilation and belowground processes. Furthermore, different responses of clipping and shading of the legume and the non-legume could be detected for root-derived CO2.
The quantitative importance of rhizodeposition at field scale was determined in Study 5. We proposed a new approach for an improved quantification of rhizodeposition under field conditions taking into account the decomposed fraction of rhizodeposits. Based on a 14CO2 pulse labeling experiment under controlled conditions a rhizodeposition-to-root ratio was calculated and was applied to the root biomass of the field. The root biomass C of maize, sampled in July 2009, was 298±64 kg C ha-1. Gross rhizodeposition was 166±53 kg C ha-1.
With aging of SOM, the availability of C for microbial decomposition declines. In Study 6 the availability of younger relative to older C sources was assessed. The natural isotope abundances of 13C and 12C of SOM and CO2 were analyzed after a C3 to C4 vegetation change. The contribution of younger C, originating from the belowground C input by maize in the previous year, and that of older C sources, derived from the former C3 vegetation, to SOM and CO2 was determined. Comparing the proportions of younger and older C in SOM with that in CO2, we found that younger C was 7 times more available for microbial decomposition than older C pools.
In summary, this thesis extends the understanding of factors affecting rhizodeposition and of processes occurring at the soil-root interface. Furthermore, it presents a new method to quantify gross rhizodeposition at field scale. Although, we could gain insight in temporal changes of the availability of C pools for microbes, the ecological importance of C fluxes in the rhizosphere requires future research on this topic with regard to spatial and temporal predictions.