Journal cover Journal topic
Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 15, issue 21
Biogeosciences, 15, 6731-6746, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-6731-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Biogeosciences, 15, 6731-6746, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-15-6731-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 13 Nov 2018

Research article | 13 Nov 2018

Biochemical and structural controls on the decomposition dynamics of boreal upland forest moss tissues

Michael Philben1,a, Sara Butler1,b, Sharon A. Billings2, Ronald Benner3,4, Kate A. Edwards5,c, and Susan E. Ziegler1 Michael Philben et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Memorial University, St. John's, NL, Canada
  • 2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA
  • 3Marine Science Program, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA
  • 4Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA
  • 5Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Atlantic Forestry Centre, NL, Canada
  • apresent address: Environmental Science Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN, USA
  • bpresent address: Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, Canada
  • cpresent address: Science Policy Integration Branch, Canadian Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Abstract. Mosses contribute an average of 20% of boreal upland forest net primary productivity and are frequently observed to degrade slowly compared to vascular plants. If this is caused primarily by the chemical complexity of their tissues, moss decomposition could exhibit high temperature sensitivity (measured as Q10) due to high activation energy, which would imply that soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks derived from moss remains are especially vulnerable to decomposition with warming. Alternatively, the physical structure of the moss cell-wall biochemical matrix could inhibit decomposition, resulting in low decay rates and low temperature sensitivity. We tested these hypotheses by incubating mosses collected from two boreal forests in Newfoundland, Canada, for 959 days at 5°C and 18°C, while monitoring changes in the moss tissue composition using total hydrolyzable amino acid (THAA) analysis and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. Less than 40% of C was respired in all incubations, revealing a large pool of apparently recalcitrant C. The decay rate of the labile fraction increased in the warmer treatment, but the total amount of C loss increased only slightly, resulting in low Q10 values (1.23–1.33) compared to L horizon soils collected from the same forests. NMR spectra were dominated by O-alkyl C throughout the experiment, indicating the persistence of potentially labile C. The accumulation of hydroxyproline (derived primarily from plant cell-wall proteins) and aromatic C indicates the selective preservation of biochemicals associated with the moss cell wall. This was supported by scanning electron microscope (SEM) images of the moss tissues, which revealed few changes in the physical structure of the cell wall after incubation. This suggests that the moss cell-wall matrix protected labile C from microbial decomposition, accounting for the low temperature sensitivity of moss decomposition despite low decay rates. Climate drivers of moss biomass and productivity, therefore, represent a potentially important regulator of boreal forest SOC responses to climate change that needs to be assessed to improve our understanding of carbon–climate feedbacks.

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We explored the relationship between chemical composition and the temperature sensitivity of moss decomposition using 959-day lab incubations. Mass loss was low despite the predominance of carbohydrates, indicating the persistence of labile C. Scanning electron microscopy revealed little change in the moss cell-wall structure. These results suggest that the moss cell-wall matrix protects labile C from decomposition, contributing to the globally important stocks of moss-derived C.
We explored the relationship between chemical composition and the temperature sensitivity of...
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