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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2014

Isothermal Microcalorimetry Provides New Insight into Terrestrial Carbon Cycling

Herrmann, Anke; Coucheney, Elsa; Nunan, Naoise


Energy is continuously transformed in environmental systems through the metabolic activities of living organisms, but little is known about the relationship between the two. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that microbial energetics are controlled by microbial community composition in terrestrial ecosystems. We determined the functional diversity profiles of the soil biota (i.e., multiple substrate-induced respiration and microbial energetics) in soils from an arable ecosystem with contrasting long-term management regimes (54 years). These two functional profiling methods were then related to the soils' microbial community composition. Using isothermal microcalorimetry, we show that direct measures of energetics provide a functional link between energy flows and the composition of below-ground microbial communities at a high taxonomic level (Mantel R = 0.4602, P = 0.006). In contrast, this link was not apparent when carbon dioxide (CO2) was used as an aggregate measure of microbial metabolism (Mantel R = 0.2291, P = 0.11). Our work advocates that the microbial energetics approach provides complementary information to soil respiration for investigating the involvement of microbial communities in below-ground carbon dynamics. Empirical data of our proposed microbial energetics approach can feed into carbon-climate based ecosystem feedback modeling with the suggested conceptual ecological model as a base.

Published in

Environmental Science and Technology
2014, Volume: 48, number: 8, pages: 4344-4352