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Research article2019Peer reviewed

Microbial utilization of simple carbon substrates in boreal peat soils at low temperatures

Segura, Javier H.; Nilsson, Mats B.; Schleucher, Jurgen; Haei, Mahsa; Sparrman, Tobias; Szekely, Anna; Bertilsson, Stefan; Oquist, Mats G.


Boreal peatlands are key high-latitude ecosystem types and act as a carbon (C) sink storing an estimated 25% of the world's soil C. These environments are currently seeing the most substantial changing climate, especially during the winter. CO2 emissions during the winter can correspond to 80% of the growing season's net CO2 assimilation. Yet, our conceptual understanding of the controls on microbial metabolic activity in peat soils at temperatures <= 0 degrees C is poor. We used stable isotope probing of peat samples and tracked the fate of C-13-glucose using C-13-NMR. We show that microorganisms in frozen boreal peat soils utilize monomeric C-substrates to sustain both catabolic and anabolic metabolism at temperatures down to -5 degrees C. The C-13-substrate was transformed into C-13-CO2, different metabolites, and incorporated into membrane phospholipid fatty acids. The 16S rRNA-based community analyses revealed the activity at -3 degrees C changes the composition of the bacterial cornmunity over relevant timescales. Below 0 degrees C, small temperature changes have strong effects on process rates and small differences in winter soil temperature may affect C dynamics of northern peatlands. Understanding biological processes at low and below zero temperatures are central for the overall functioning of these systems representing one of the world's major soil C pools.


Frozen peat soils; Microbial activity; Metabolism; C-13-NMR; DNA; Carbon cycling

Published in

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
2019, Volume: 135, pages: 438-448