U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Organic Geochemistry 52 (2012) 23–31; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2012.08.005


Up to 50% of organic C and 80% of organic N within soil can exist as amino acids, amino sugars and carbohydrates. To determine how potential microbial accessibility and turnover of these compounds is impacted by encroachment of woody plants into grasslands, we investigated changes in evolved CO2 during thermal analysis and in carbohydrate and amino compound chemistry after long term laboratory incubation of sandy loam grassland woodland soils from southern Texas, USA. Thermal analysis showed that incubation increased the amount of soil organic matter (SOM) released at higher temperatures and that evolved CO2 profiles correlated with increases in amino C. During incubation, total carbohydrate C decreased slightly faster than bulk soil C, with preferential loss of plant-derived carbohydrates and/or production of microbial carbohydrates most strongly expressed in grassland and younger woodland soils. Total N content did not change during incubation, so the reduction in extractable amino N in older woodland soils suggested that N became more resistant to extraction during incubation. These data, along with previous measurements of respired CO2, indicate that changes in carbohydrate C and amino C did not predict mineralized CO2 yields and that amino compounds and microbial carbohydrate C were not selectively lost during incubation. The differing response in SOM loss (or enrichment) during incubation of the older woodland soils revealed a system with altered SOM dynamics due to woody encroachment, confirming that the short term ‘lability’ or ‘recalcitrance’ of SOM components is dependent on a number of interacting variables.