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This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 67 No. 5, p. 1544-1550
    Received: July 24, 2002

    * Corresponding author(s): sylvie.quideau@ualberta.ca


Natural Isotopic Distribution in Soil Surface Horizons Differentiated by Vegetation

  1. S. A. Quideau *a,
  2. R. C. Grahamb,
  3. X. Fengc and
  4. O. A. Chadwickd
  1. a Dep. of Renewable Resources, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada T6G 2E3
    b Soil and Water Sciences Program, Dep. of Environmental Sciences, Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521
    c Dep. of Earth Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755
    d Dep. of Geography, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106


The isotopic composition of soil organic matter (SOM) is a useful tool for deciphering the different mechanisms underlying decomposition processes in soils. The objective of this study was to quantify the influence of oak (Quercus dumosa Nutt.) and pine (Pinus coulteri D. Don) vegetation on the isotopic variation occurring during decomposition by measuring δ13C and δ15N in selected litter and soil fractions. Soil samples obtained from A horizons of two lysimeter soils were separated by density and mineral size to isolate the floatable, fine silt, and clay fractions. These fractions as well as the litter samples were subjected to sequential chemical extractions to differentiate between polar and nonpolar extractives, acid-soluble carbohydrates, and acid-insoluble residues. The physical fractions varied by up to 3.5‰ for δ13C and 4.7‰ for δ15N, while acid-insoluble residues were depleted by 0.9 to 2.1‰ δ13C as compared with the samples before extraction. Under oak, 13C and 15N content progressively increased from the litter to the floatable, fine silt, and clay fractions (by 4.7‰ for δ13C and 4.9‰ for δ15N). By comparison, under pine, enrichment of the clay fraction was 1.7‰ for δ13C and 1.7‰ for δ15N as compared with the initial litter. The greater enrichment in heavy isotopes under oak vegetation as compared with the pine could not be explained based on differences in litter inputs. Results suggested instead that variation in decomposition processes by vegetation type caused the differences in heavy isotope enrichment.

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