From the litter layer to the saprolite: Chemical changes in water-soluble soil organic matter and their correlation to microbial community composition

Rachel S. Gabor*, Kathryn Eilers, Diane M. McKnight, Noah Fierer, Suzanne P. Anderson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Organic matter content and chemistry is vital to the structure and function of soil systems, but while organic matter is recognized as biogeochemically important, its chemical interaction with soil processes is not well understood. In this study we used fluorescence spectroscopy, which has been used extensively for understanding the role of organic matter in aquatic systems, to identify chemical changes in organic matter with depth in a soil system. Soil was collected from nine different pits in a first-order montane catchment in the Colorado Front Range. The water-soluble soil organic matter was extracted from each sample and fluorescence and UV-vis spectroscopy was used to analyze its chemical character. While organic matter chemistry had little correlation with landscape location and local vegetation, there were noticeable consistent trends between soil horizon and organic matter chemistry in each pit. Total organic matter decreased with depth and became less aromatic with increasing depth. This less aromatic material in the saprolite also had a greater microbial signature. The redox character of the organic matter accompanied this change in source and molecular structure, with more oxidized character corresponding with organic matter with more microbial input and more reduced character corresponding to organic matter with more plant input. A concurrent investigation of the microbial population of the same soil samples also showed microbial population composition varying more with soil depth than landscape position, and depth changes in microbial diversity occurred concomitantly with depth changes in organic matter chemistry. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-176
Number of pages11
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Early online date14 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • Water soluble organic matter (WSOM)
  • Soil depth
  • UV-vis absorbance and fluorescence spectroscopy
  • XAD-8 resin fractionation
  • Organic matter/microbe interactions
  • humic substances
  • fluorescence spectroscopy
  • electron-acceptors
  • critical zone
  • front range
  • reduction
  • acids
  • quinones
  • dynamics
  • Colorado


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