Combined effects of rhizodeposit C and crop residues on SOM priming, residue mineralization and N supply in soil

Lumbani D. Mwafulirwa, Elizabeth M. Baggs, Joanne Russell, Nicholas Morley, Allan Sim, Eric Paterson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Fluxes of rhizodeposit carbon (C) to soil stimulate microbial activity affecting soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition and, in turn, nutrient fluxes in soil. In agricultural soils, residues from previous crops also have major impacts on SOM and nutrient cycling, and their turnover by microbes is likely to be indirectly impacted by rhizodeposition. However, the combined effects of rhizodeposit C and inputs of C from dead plant materials in soil on native SOM decomposition are unclear. In this study, we assessed (i) the individual and combined effects of barley rhizodeposition and ryegrass root residue inputs (as a model for residue input from previous crop) on SOM mineralization, (ii) the intraspecies variation within barley in impacting residue mineralization, and (iii) whether genotypes that stimulate high mineralization rates of plant residues in soil also directly benefit through increased nutrient uptake from these residues. We continuously applied 13C depleted CO2 to selected barley recombinant chromosome substitution lines (RCSLs) to trace the flow of barley root-derived C in surface soil CO2 efflux, soil microbial biomass and soil particle-size fractions. In addition, 13C and 15N enriched ryegrass root residues were mixed into soil to trace the mineralization of residue-derived C and the residue-derived nitrogen (N) uptake by plants. Our results show (i) genotype-specific variation in impacting total soil CO2 efflux and its component sources: SOM-derived C, barley root-derived C and/or ryegrass residue-derived C, (ii) residue effects on total C and SOM-derived C respired as CO2, (iii) genotype-residue combined effects on SOM primed C, that were very similar to the sum of primed C caused by planting or residue addition alone (except for the last sampling date), and (iv) that plant uptake of residue released N between genotypes was linked to genotype impacts on residue mineralization. These results suggest that impacts of plant rhizodeposition and residue inputs had additive effects on SOM priming. Furthermore, these results demonstrate, for the first time, genotype differences in impacting the mineralization of recent plant-derived organic materials in soil, and reveal that this process directly contributes to plant nutrition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-44
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Early online date6 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by a James Hutton Institute international PhD studentship awarded to L. Mwafulirwa. We gratefully acknowledge B. Thornton and G. Martin for their outstanding specialist support in isotope analyses. We also thank T. George, C. De la Fuente Cantó, M. Procee, S. McIntyre, C. Curran and A. Bruce for their respective contributions, B. Duff for her input in statistical analysis, P. Hayes and I. Matus for supplying the original set of the barley RCSLs, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on the earlier version of this article.


  • Nutrient fluxes in soil
  • Plant N uptake
  • Residue mineralization
  • Rhizodeposition
  • Soil organic matter decomposition


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