The C:N:P:S stoichiometry of soil organic matter

Tipping, Edward; Somerville, Cayman J.; Luster, Jörg. 2016 The C:N:P:S stoichiometry of soil organic matter. Biogeochemistry, 130 (1). 117-131.

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The formation and turnover of soil organic matter (SOM) includes the biogeochemical processing of the macronutrient elements nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and sulphur (S), which alters their stoichiometric relationships to carbon (C) and to each other. We sought patterns among soil organic C, N, P and S in data for c. 2000 globally distributed soil samples, covering all soil horizons. For non-peat soils, strong negative correlations (p < 0.001) were found between N:C, P:C and S:C ratios and % organic carbon (OC), showing that SOM of soils with low OC concentrations (high in mineral matter) is rich in N, P and S. The results can be described approximately with a simple mixing model in which nutrient-poor SOM (NPSOM) has N:C, P:C and S:C ratios of 0.039, 0.0011 and 0.0054, while nutrient-rich SOM (NRSOM) has corresponding ratios of 0.12, 0.016 and 0.016, so that P is especially enriched in NRSOM compared to NPSOM. The trends hold across a range of ecosystems, for topsoils, including O horizons, and subsoils, and across different soil classes. The major exception is that tropical soils tend to have low P:C ratios especially at low N:C. We suggest that NRSOM comprises compounds selected by their strong adsorption to mineral matter. The stoichiometric patterns established here offer a new quantitative framework for SOM classification and characterisation, and provide important constraints to dynamic soil and ecosystem models of carbon turnover and nutrient dynamics.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
CEH Sections/Science Areas: Shore
ISSN: 0168-2563
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, protein, soil organic matter, stoichiometry, sulphur
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 11 Oct 2016 15:31 +0 (UTC)

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