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Stimulation of Anaerobic Organic Matter Decomposition by Subsurface Organic N Addition In Tundra Soils

Publication Type
Journal Name
Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication Date
Page Numbers
195 to 204

Increasing nitrogen (N) availability in Arctic soils could stimulate the growth of both plants and microorganisms by relieving the constraints of nutrient limitation. It was hypothesized that organic N addition to anoxic tundra soil would increase CH4 production by stimulating the fermentation of labile substrates, which is considered the rate-limiting step in anaerobic C mineralization. We tested this hypothesis through both field and lab-based experiments. In the field experiment, we injected a solution of 13C- and 15N-labeled glutamate 35 cm below the soil surface in a tundra soil at a site near Nome on the Seward Peninsula, Alaska, and observed the resulting changes in porewater geochemistry and dissolved greenhouse gas concentrations. In the field experiment, the concentration of free glutamate declined rapidly within hours of injection, and the 15N label was recovered almost exclusively as dissolved organic N within 62 hours. These results indicate rapid microbial assimilation of the added N and transformation into novel organic compounds. We observed increasing concentrations of dissolved CH4 and Fe(II), indicating rapid stimulation of methanogenesis and Fe(III) reduction. Low molecular weight organic acids such as acetate and propionate accumulated despite increasing consumption through anaerobic C mineralization. The laboratory soil column flow experiment using active layer soil collected from the same site further supported these findings. Glutamate recovery was low compared to a conservative bromide tracer, but concentrations of NO3- and NH4+ remained low, consistent with microbial uptake of the added N. Similar to the field experiment, we observed both increasing Fe(II) and organic acid concentrations. Together, these results support our hypothesis of increased fermentation in response to organic N addition and suggest that increasing N availability could accelerate CH4 production in tundra soils.