Received: 25 Sep 2015 – Discussion started: 30 Oct 2015
Abstract. A compound-specific nitrogen-15 stable isotope probing (15N-SIP) technique is described which allows investigation of the fate of inorganic- or organic-N amendments to soils. The technique uses gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS) to determine the δ15N values of individual amino acids (AAs; determined as N-acetyl, O-isopropyl derivatives) as proxies of biomass protein production. The δ15N values are used together with AA concentrations to quantify N assimilation of 15N-labelled substrates by the soil microbial biomass. The utility of the approach is demonstrated through incubation experiments using inorganic 15N-labelled substrates ammonium (15NH4+) and nitrate (15NO3-) and an organic 15N-labelled substrate, glutamic acid (15N-Glu). Assimilation of all the applied substrates was undetectable based on bulk soil properties, i.e. % total N (% TN), bulk soil N isotope composition and AA concentrations, all of which remained relatively constant throughout the incubation experiments. In contrast, compound-specific AA δ15N values were highly sensitive to N assimilation, providing qualitative and quantitative insights into the cycling and fate of the applied 15N-labelled substrates. The utility of this 15N-AA-SIP technique is considered in relation to other currently available methods for investigating the microbially-mediated assimilation of nitrogenous substrates into the soil organic N pool. This approach will be generally applicable to the study of N cycling in any soil, or indeed, in any complex ecosystem.
How to cite. Charteris, A. F., Knowles, T. D. J., Michaelides, K., and Evershed, R. P.: Compound-specific 15N stable isotope probing of N assimilation by the soil microbial biomass: a new methodological paradigm in soil N cycling, SOIL Discuss., 2, 1135–1160, https://doi.org/10.5194/soild-2-1135-2015, 2015.