18 Jan 2021

18 Jan 2021

Review status: a revised version of this preprint was accepted for the journal SOIL.

Transformation of n-alkanes from plant to soil: a review

Carrie L. Thomas1,2, Boris Jansen2, E. Emiel van Loon2, and Guido L. B. Wiesenberg1 Carrie L. Thomas et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 1098XH, Netherlands

Abstract. Despite the importance of soil organic matter (SOM) in the global carbon cycle, there remain many open questions regarding its formation and preservation. The study of individual organic compound classes that make up SOM, such as lipid biomarkers including n-alkanes, can provide insight into the cycling of bulk SOM. While studies of lipid biomarkers, particularly n-alkanes, have increased in number in the past few decades, only a limited number have focused on the transformation of these compounds following deposition in soil archives. We performed a systematic review to consolidate the available information on plant-derived n-alkanes and their transformation from plant to soil. Our major findings were 1) a nearly ubiquitous trend of decreased total concentration of n-alkanes either with time in litterbag experiments or with depth in open plant-soil systems, 2) a decrease in either Carbon Preference Index (CPI) or Odd-over-Even Predominance (OEP) with depth, indicating degradation of the n-alkane signal or a shift in vegetation composition over time, and 3) preferential degradation of odd chain length and shorter chain length n-alkanes. The review also highlighted a lack of data transparency and standardization across studies of lipid biomarkers, making analysis and synthesis of published data time-consuming and difficult. We recommend that the community move towards more uniform and systematic reporting of biomarker data. Furthermore, as the number of studies examining the complete leaf-litter-soil continuum is very limited as well as unevenly distributed over geographical regions, climate zones, and soil types, future data collection should focus on underrepresented areas as well as quantifying the transformation of n-alkanes through the complete continuum of plant to soil.

Carrie L. Thomas et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on soil-2020-107', Anonymous Referee #1, 10 Feb 2021
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Carrie Thomas, 31 Mar 2021
  • RC2: 'Comment on soil-2020-107', Anonymous Referee #2, 16 Feb 2021
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Carrie Thomas, 31 Mar 2021
  • RC3: 'Comment on soil-2020-107', Anonymous Referee #3, 19 Feb 2021
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC3', Carrie Thomas, 31 Mar 2021

Carrie L. Thomas et al.

Carrie L. Thomas et al.


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Short summary
Plant organs, such as leaves, contain a variety of chemicals that are eventually deposited into soil and can be useful for studying organic carbon cycling. We performed a systematic review of available data of one type of plant-derived chemical, n-alkanes, to determine patterns of degradation or preservation from the source plant to the soil. We found that while there was degradation in the amount of n-alkanes from plant to soil, some aspects of the chemical signature were preserved.