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Plant-Soil Relationships Influence Observed Trends Between Manganese and Carbon Across Biomes

by Fernanda Santos, Elizabeth M Herndon
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Journal Name
Global Biogeochemical Cycles
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Manganese (Mn) is an essential plant micronutrient that plays a critical role in the litter decomposition by oxidizing and degrading complex organic molecules. Previous studies report a negative correlation between Mn concentrations and carbon (C) storage in organic horizons and suggest that high Mn concentrations in leaf litter reduce soil C storage in forest ecosystems, presumably by stimulating the oxidation of lignin by fungal enzymes. Yet, the relationship between Mn and C in the litter layer and organic soil remains poorly understood and restricted to a few biomes, hampering our ability to improve mechanistic understanding of soil C accumulation. To examine plant-soil interactions that underlie observed relationships between Mn and C across a wide range of biomes, we extracted biogeochemical data reported for plants and soils from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) database. We found that increased C and nitrogen (N) storage in organic horizons were associated with declines in Mn concentrations across diverse ecosystems at the continental scale, and this relationship was associated with the degree of organic matter decomposition (i.e., Oi, Oe, and Oa). Carbon and N stocks were more strongly correlated with Mn than with climatic variables (i.e., temperature and precipitation). Foliar Mn was strongly correlated with foliar lignin, and both these parameters increased with a decrease in soil pH, indicating links between soil pH, foliar chemistry, and litter decomposability. Our observations suggest that increased Mn bioavailability and accumulation in foliage under moderately acidic soil conditions support fungal decomposition of lignin-rich litter and contributes to lower soil C stocks.