Biological enhancement of mineral weathering by Pinus sylvestris seedlings – effects of plants, ectomycorrhizal fungi, and elevated CO2
Better understanding and quantifying the relative influence of plants, associated mycorrhizal fungi, and abiotic factors such as elevated CO2 on biotic weathering is essential to constraining weathering estimates. We employed a column microcosm system to examine the effects of elevated CO2 and Pinus sylvestris seedlings, with or without the ectomycorrhizal fungi Piloderma fallax and Suillus variegatus, on rhizosphere soil solution concentrations of low-molecular-weight organic acids (LMWOAs) and on the weathering of primary minerals. Seedlings significantly increased mineral weathering, as estimated from elemental budgets of Ca, K, Mg, and Si. Elevated CO2 increased plant growth and LMWOA concentrations but had no effect on weathering. Colonization by ectomycorrhizal fungi, particularly P. fallax, showed some tendency to increase weathering. LMWOA concentrations correlated with seedling biomass across both CO2 and mycorrhizal treatments but not with total weathering. We conclude that nutrient uptake, which reduces transport limitation to weathering, is the primary mechanism by which plants enhanced weathering in this system. While the experimental system used departs from conditions in forest soils in a number of ways, these results are in line with weathering studies performed at the ecosystem, macrocosm, and microcosm scale, indicating that nutrient uptake by plants and microbes is an important biological mechanism by which mineral weathering is enhanced.