Potential soil organic matter turnover in Taylor Valley, Antarctica

TitlePotential soil organic matter turnover in Taylor Valley, Antarctica
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsBarrett, JE, Virginia, RA, Parsons, AN, Wall, DH
JournalArctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research
Date Published02/2005
Type of ArticleJournal
Accession NumberLTER63389

Antarctic Dry Valley ecosystems are among the most inhospitable soil ecosystems on earth with simple food webs and nearly undetectable fluxes of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). Due to the lack of vascular plants, soil organic matter concentrations are extremely low, and it is unclear how much of the contemporary soil C budget is actively cycling or a legacy of paleolake production and sedimentation. While recent work indicates multiple sources of organic matter for dry valley soils, the composition and kinetics of organic pools remain poorly characterized. We examined soil organic matter pools and potential C and N turnover in soils from within six sites located across three hydrological basins of Taylor Valley, Antarctica that differed in surface age, microclimate and proximity to legacy (paleolake) sources of organic matter. We estimated potential C and N mineralization, and rate kinetics using gas exchange and repeated leaching techniques during 90-d incubations of surface soils collected from valley basin and valley slope positions in three basins of Taylor Valley. Soil organic C content was negatively correlated with the ages of underlying tills, supporting previous descriptions of legacy organic matter. Carbon and N mineralization generally followed 1st order kinetics and were well described by exponential models. Labile pools of C (90 d) were 10% of the total organic C in the upper 5 cm of the soil profile. Labile N was 50% of the total N in surface soils of Taylor Valley. These results show that a large proportion of soil C and particularly N are mineralizable under suitable conditions and suggest that a kinetically defined labile pool of organic matter is potentially active in the field during brief intervals of favorable microclimate. Climate variation changing the duration of these conditions may have potentially large effects on the small pools of C and N in these soils.