Lignin and fungal abundance modify manganese effects on soil organic carbon persistence at the continental scale


Manganese (Mn) may play an outsized role in soil biogeochemical cycles relative to its abundance. The role of Mn-facilitated oxidation of biomacromolecules during litter decomposition is well-established, but the balance between Mn-promoted soil organic carbon (SOC) oxidation and long-term SOC protection in mineral soils is unknown, especially in subsoils. In this study, we used soils collected across the US National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) to assess the distribution of Mn and relationships between Mn abundance and SOC concentration, potential mineralization, and persistence at a continental spatial scale. Total reducible Mn was not spatially correlated to site moisture (Spearman's Rho = 0.24), highlighting that Mn abundance may influence SOC cycling independently from other moisture-driven soil chemical properties (e.g., reactive iron and aluminum). However, Mn effects on SOC cycling depended on depth, soil, or site-level properties. In particular, fungal:bacterial biomass ratio, proportion of SOC in the free light fraction, lignin abundance, and/or proportion of undegraded organic matter mediated the effect of Mn on SOC cycling metrics. For example, the effect of Mn on SOC concentration in subsoils shifted from positive (approximately +270 % relative to mean subsoil SOC) to negative (-125 %) with increasing fungal:bacterial ratio. We propose that convergence of high Mn, lignin-rich substrates, and fungal:bacterial ratio amplifies lignin mineralization in surface soils, but does not result in higher net SOC turnover due to fungal biomass stabilization. In contrast, we suggest that Mn abundance promotes smaller, but more persistent SOC stocks in subsoils by accelerating SOC transformation from particulate to microbial biomass pools.

Manganese, Soil carbon, Lignin, Fungi