Subsoil biogeochemical properties induce shifts in carbon allocation pattern and soil C dynamics in wheat

  • Sebastian LoeppmannEmail author
  • Kelsey Forbush
  • Weixin Cheng
  • Johanna Pausch
Regular Article



Microbial turnover processes are typically restricted by low substrate availability in the subsoil. We hypothesized that SOM decomposition increases with plant density and decreases with N fertilization: We expected a greater rate of C allocation to the rhizosphere in the topsoil than in the subsoil treatments.


In order to simulate different degrees of rhizodeposition, wheat was planted in pots at four different densities. The plants were continuously labeled with 13C-depleted CO2. Soil CO2 efflux was partitioned for root- and SOM-derived CO2. Moreover, we determined the enzyme kinetics by measuring catalytic efficiency and enzyme stoichiometry in both topsoil and subsoil.


Shoot biomass and the shoot to root ratio were significantly higher for plants grown in the topsoil compared with the subsoil, which demonstrated higher relative C allocation to root biomass in the subsoil treatment. Despite the similar size of the rhizosphere, root-derived CO2 was always higher in the topsoil compared with the subsoil treatment, indicating enhanced root exudation. Effect sizes of all enzyme activities showed stronger magnitudes for the subsoil treatments. This was in line with a two-times increase of the effect size of SOM decomposition in the subsoil relative to topsoil.


Overall, the plants in the subsoil treatments allocated more C to root biomass, less C to shoot biomass, and substantially less C to root exudates. However, the effect sizes of both SOM decomposition and enzyme activities were higher in the subsoil than in the topsoil, reflecting a stronger sensitivity to C inputs.


Enzyme stoichiometry Root-derived CO2 SOM-derived CO2 Subsoil Rhizosphere Root exudation Shoot Catalytic efficiency 



We thank Susann Enzmann for the helping hand in the lab.

Funding information

This study received funding from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) 57051794. Furthermore, this study also received funding from the H.W. Schaumann Stiftung.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4204_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 1142 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sebastian Loeppmann
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Kelsey Forbush
    • 3
  • Weixin Cheng
    • 3
  • Johanna Pausch
    • 4
  1. 1.Biogeochemistry of AgroecosystemsGeorg-August UniversityGoettingenGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil ScienceChristian-Albrechts UniversityKielGermany
  3. 3.Department of Environmental StudiesUniversity of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA
  4. 4.AgroecologyUniversity of BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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