Amino acid and N mineralization dynamics in heathland soil after long-term warming and repetitive drought
Abstract. Monomeric organic nitrogen (N) compounds such as free amino acids (FAAs) are an important resource for both plants and soil microorganisms and a source of ammonium (NH4+) via microbial FAA mineralization. We compared gross FAA dynamics with gross N mineralization in a Dutch heathland soil using a 15N tracing technique. A special focus was made on the effects of climate change factors warming and drought, followed by rewetting. Our aims were to (1) compare FAA mineralization (NH4+ production from FAAs) with gross N mineralization, (2) assess gross FAA production rate (depolymerization) and turnover time relative to gross N mineralization rate, and (3) assess the effects of a 14 years of warming and drought treatment on these rates.
The turnover of FAA in the soil was ca. 3 h, which is almost 2 orders of magnitude faster than that of NH4+ (i.e. ca. 4 days). This suggests that FAA is an extensively used resource by soil microorganisms. In control soil (i.e. no climatic treatment), the gross N mineralization rate (10 ± 2.9 μg N g−1 day−1) was 8 times smaller than the total gross FAA production rate of five AAs (alanine, valine, leucine, isoleucine, proline: 127.4 to 25.0 μg N g−1 day−1). Gross FAA mineralization (3.4 ± 0.2 μg N g−1 day−1) contributed 34% to the gross N mineralization rate and is therefore an important component of N mineralization. In the drought treatment, a 6–29% reduction in annual precipitation caused a decrease of gross FAA production by 65% and of gross FAA mineralization by 41% compared to control. On the other hand, gross N mineralization was unaffected by drought, indicating an increased mineralization of other soil organic nitrogen (SON) components. A 0.5–1.5 °C warming did not significantly affect N transformations, even though gross FAA production declined.
Overall our results suggest that in heathland soil exposed to droughts a different type of SON pool is mineralized. Furthermore, compared to agricultural soils, FAA mineralization was relatively less important in the investigated heathland. This indicates more complex mineralization dynamics in semi-natural ecosystems.