Evidence for preferential protein depolymerization in wetland soils in response to external nitrogen availability provided by a novel FTIR routine

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  • Hendrik Reuter, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries
  • ,
  • Julia Gensel, University of Bremen
  • ,
  • Marcus Elvert, University of Bremen
  • ,
  • Dominik Zak

Phragmites australis litters were incubated in three waterlogged anoxic wetland soils of different nutrient status for 75 and litter nitrogen (N) dynamics were analyzed by elemental analyses and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). At the end of the incubation time, the N content in the remaining litter tissue had increased in most samples. Yet, the increase in N content was less pronounced when litters had been decomposed in a more-N-poor environment. FTIR was used to quantify the relative content of proteins in litter tissue and revealed a highly linear relationship between bulk N content and protein content. Changes in bulk N content thus paralleled and probably were governed by changes in litter protein content. Such changes are the result of two competing processes within decomposing litter: enzymatic protein depolymerization as a part of the litter breakdown process and microbial protein synthesis as a part of microbial biomass growth within the litter. Assuming microbial homeostasis, DNA signals in FTIR spectra were used to calculate the amount of microbial N in decomposed litter which ranged from 14% to 42% of the total litter N for all leaf samples. Microbial carbon (C) content and resultant calculated carbon use efficiencies (CUEs) indicate that microbial N in litter accumulated according to predictions of the stoichiometric decomposition theory. Subtracting microbial C and N contributions from litter, however, revealed site-dependent variations in the percentual amount of the remaining still-unprocessed plant N in litter compared to remaining plant C, an indicator for preferential protein depolymerization. For all leaf litters, the coefficient of preferential protein depolymerization (α), which relates N-compound depolymerization to C-compound depolymerization, ranged from 0.74-0.88 in a nutrient-rich detritus mud to 1.38-1.82 in Sphagnum peat, the most nutrient-poor substrate in this experiment. Preferential protein depolymerization from litter decomposing in Sphagnum peat leads to a gradual N depletion in the early phase of litter decomposition, which we propose as a preservation mechanism for vascular litter in Sphagnum peatlands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-514
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

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