Integrating plant litter quality, soil organic matter stabilization, and the carbon saturation concept
Labile, ‘high-quality’, plant litters are hypothesized to promote soil organic matter (SOM) stabilization in mineral soil fractions that are physicochemically protected from rapid mineralization. However, the effect of litter quality on SOM stabilization is inconsistent. High-quality litters, characterized by high N concentrations, low C/N ratios, and low phenol/lignin concentrations, are not consistently stabilized in SOM with greater efficiency than ‘low-quality’ litters characterized by low N concentrations, high C/N ratios, and high phenol/lignin concentrations. Here, we attempt to resolve these inconsistent results by developing a new conceptual model that links litter quality to the soil C saturation concept. Our model builds on the Microbial Efficiency-Matrix Stabilization framework (Cotrufo et al., 2013) by suggesting the effect of litter quality on SOM stabilization is modulated by the extent of soil C saturation such that high-quality litters are not always stabilized in SOM with greater efficiency than low-quality litters.
This article is published as Castellano, Michael J., Kevin E. Mueller, Daniel C. Olk, John E. Sawyer, and Johan Six. "Integrating plant litter quality, soil organic matter stabilization, and the carbon saturation concept." Global change biology 21, no. 9 (2015): 3200-3209. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12982.