|Title||Annual burning of a tallgrass prairie inhibits C and N cycling in soil, increasing recalcitrant pyrogenic organic matter storage while reducing N availability|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2015|
|Authors||Soong, JL, Cotrufo, MF|
|Journal||Global Change Biology|
Grassland ecosystems store an estimated 30% of the world's total soil C and are frequently disturbed by wildfires or fire management. Aboveground litter decomposition is one of the main processes that form soil organic matter (SOM). However, during a fire biomass is removed or partially combusted and litter inputs to the soil are substituted with inputs of pyrogenic organic matter (py-OM). Py-OM accounts for a more recalcitrant plant input to SOM than fresh litter, and the historical frequency of burning may alter C and N retention of both fresh litter and py-OM inputs to the soil. We compared the fate of these two forms of plant material by incubating 13C- and 15N-labeled Andropogon gerardii litter and py-OM at both an annually burned and an infrequently burned tallgrass prairie site for 11 months. We traced litter and py-OM C and N into uncomplexed and organo-mineral SOM fractions and CO2 fluxes and determined how fire history affects the fate of these two forms of aboveground biomass. Evidence from CO2 fluxes and SOM C:N ratios indicates that the litter was microbially transformed during decomposition while, besides an initial labile fraction, py-OM added to SOM largely untransformed by soil microbes. Additionally, at the N-limited annually burned site, litter N was tightly conserved. Together, these results demonstrate how, although py-OM may contribute to C and N sequestration in the soil due to its resistance to microbial degradation, a long history of annual removal of fresh litter and input of py-OM infers N limitation due to the inhibition of microbial decomposition of aboveground plant inputs to the soil. These results provide new insight into how fire may impact plant inputs to the soil, and the effects of py-OM on SOM formation and ecosystem C and N cycling.