Development of a soil respiration isotopic sampling system
Thesis DisciplineBiological Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The rate of carbon turnover in soil is a balance between the input of carbon by plants through their roots and associated fungi and the loss of carbon due to plant and microbial respiration, oxidation and leaching. Soil carbon dynamics are notoriously difficult to measure, and being able to separate total soil respiration into its autotrophic and heterotrophic components would help understanding of carbon cycling processes. Where autotrophic respiration originates from roots and their associated mycorrhizal fungi, using newly fixed carbon, and heterotrophic respiration originates from the breakdown of older soil organic matter.
By calculating the δ¹³C signature of respired CO₂ (the ratio of the abundances of C isotopes ¹²C and ¹³C) it is possible to determine whether it is of heterotrophic or autotrophic origin. In this study a 6 chamber, constant CO₂ concentration measuring apparatus was developed to determine both the rate of CO₂ efflux and to collect undisturbed CO₂ samples for isotope analysis. This apparatus was tested using live soil samples with different δ¹³C values (-22 ‰ to -27 ‰) and respiration rates (2 – 8 µmol m⁻² s⁻¹) obtained from various locations in New Zealand. Testing involved taking samples using the respiration apparatus, then incubating the same samples in a bag, and then comparing the two. There was no difference between the results from the soil respiration apparatus and the bags (R²=0.96, p=0.0002).
Twelve microcosms including soil and grass were extracted from a newly converted dairy farm and placed into in growth cabinets. Diurnal courses of partitioned soil respiration were made over 24 hours with constant soil temperature to eliminate temperatures effect on soil respiration. Half were then covered with 90% shade cloth for 12 days to test if a reduction in light (and therefore newly fixed carbon) would have any effect on soil respiration. There was a significant reduction in soil respiration, yet no detectable change in the δ¹³C of soil respired CO₂ under heavily shaded treatment. There was however there was a shift towards heterotrophic dominated respiration. This shows that while L. perenne is resilient to surrounding conditions it is susceptible to change if exposed to different conditions for prolonged periods of time. The use of this new technique in the field will allow improved understanding of factors effecting soil C efflux.