Millennial-age glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) in forested mineral soils: 14C-based evidence for stabilization of microbial necromass

Gies, Hannah; Hagedorn, Frank; Lupker, Maarten; Montluçon, Daniel; Haghipour, Negar; van der Voort, Tessa Sophia; Eglinton, Timothy Ian

Understanding controls on the persistence of soil organic matter (SOM) is essential to constrain its role in the carbon cycle and inform climate–carbon cycle model predictions. Emerging concepts regarding the formation and turnover of SOM imply that it is mainly comprised of mineral-stabilized microbial products and residues; however, direct evidence in support of this concept remains limited. Here, we introduce and test a method for the isolation of isoprenoid and branched glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) – diagnostic membrane lipids of archaea and bacteria, respectively – for subsequent natural abundance radiocarbon analysis. The method is applied to depth profiles from two Swiss pre-Alpine forested soils. We find that the inline-formulaΔ14C values of these microbial markers markedly decrease with increasing soil depth, indicating turnover times of millennia in mineral subsoils. The contrasting metabolisms of the GDGT-producing microorganisms indicates it is unlikely that the low inline-formulaΔ14C values of these membrane lipids reflect heterotrophic acquisition of inline-formula14C-depleted carbon. We therefore attribute the inline-formula14C-depleted signatures of GDGTs to their physical protection through association with mineral surfaces. These findings thus provide strong evidence for the presence of stabilized microbial necromass in forested mineral soils.

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Gies, Hannah / Hagedorn, Frank / Lupker, Maarten / et al: Millennial-age glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs) in forested mineral soils: 14C-based evidence for stabilization of microbial necromass. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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