Plant litter chemistry and microbial priming regulate the accrual, composition and stability of soil carbon in invaded ecosystems

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Summary

  • Soil carbon (C) sequestration, as an ecosystem property, may be strongly influenced by invasive plants capable of depositing disproportionately high quantities of chemically distinct litter that disrupt ecosystem processes. However, a mechanistic understanding of the processes that regulate soil C storage in invaded ecosystems remains surprisingly elusive.
  • Here, we studied the impact of the invasion of two noxious nonnative species, Polygonum cuspidatum, which produces recalcitrant litter, and Pueraria lobata, which produces labile litter, on the quantity, molecular composition, and stability of C in the soils they invade.
  • Compared with an adjacent noninvaded old-field, P. cuspidatum-invaded soils exhibited a 26% increase in C, partially through selective preservation of plant polymers. Despite receiving a 22% higher litter input, P. lobata-invaded Pinus stands exhibited a 28% decrease in soil C and a twofold decrease in plant biomarkers, indicating microbial priming of native soil C. The stability of C exhibited an opposite trend: the proportion of C that was resistant to oxidation was 21% lower in P. cuspidatum-invaded soils and 50% higher in P. lobata-invaded soils.
  • Our results highlight the capacity of invasive plants to feed back to climate change by destabilizing native soil C stocks and indicate that environments that promote the biochemical decomposition of plant litter would enhance the long-term storage of soil C. Further, our study highlights the concurrent influence of dominant plant species on both selective preservation and humification of soil organic matter.

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