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Variation in soil organic carbon across lowland tropical forest gradients: soil fertility and precipitation effects on soil carbon organic chemistry and age




Blackaby, Emily, author
Cusack, Daniela F., advisor
Boot, Claudia M., committee member
Cotrufo, M. Francesca, committee member

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Tropical forests hold large amounts of carbon (C) in both aboveground biomass and belowground soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks. Climate change is expected to alter tropical forests' precipitation with some forests already showing decreased rainfall. We analyzed SOC molecular composition and age in lowland tropical forests of Panama across fertility gradients, rainfall ranges, and soil order. We hypothesized that H1) rainforests with relatively greater rainfall store larger amounts of proteins (N-alkyl) and lipids (alkyl) in SOC because of greater microbial biomass and H2) subsurface SOC stocks in more strongly weathered, clay-rich soils are older (as indicated by radiocarbon) because of great sorption capacity. We found that overall, carbon decreased and became older with depth across all samples. Solid-state 13C NMR spectroscopy indicated that soil order and depth were significant predictors of C functional group abundances while phosphorus (P) was a significant predictor of alkyl, aromatic, and carboxyl C. Alkyl/O-Alkyl ratios increased with depth indicating increased degradation of the SOC. ∆14C values indicated older C with depth and varied significantly with soil order where Oxisols were the oldest and Mollisols the youngest. Soil N % and K % were significant predictors of younger soil C. Additionally, biomolecular composition of SOM from 0-10 cm was a significant predictor of ∆14C at 25-50 cm. We found that higher abundances of alkyl and O-alkyl C corresponded with younger C at depth and higher abundances of aromatic and phenolic C contained older C at depth.


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tadiocarbon 14C
tropical forests
soil organic carbon


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