, Volume 81, Issue 3, pp 361–373 | Cite as

Soil minerals and humic acids alter enzyme stability: implications for ecosystem processes

General Paper


In most ecosystems, the degradation of complex organic material depends on extracellular enzymes produced by microbes. These enzymes can exist in bound or free form within the soil, but the dynamics of these different enzyme pools remain uncertain. To address this uncertainty, I determined rates of enzyme turnover in a volcanic soil with and without added enzymes. I also tested whether or not soil minerals and humic acids would alter enzyme activity. In soils that were gamma-irradiated to stop enzyme production, 35–70% of the enzyme activity was stable throughout the 21-day incubation. The remaining enzyme fraction decayed at rates ranging from  − 0.032 to  − 0.628 day−1. In both the irradiated soils and in soils with added enzymes, addition of the mineral allophane had a strong positive effect on most enzyme activities. Another added mineral, ferrihydrite, had a weak positive effect on some enzymes. Added humic acids strongly inhibited enzyme activity. These findings suggest that minerals, especially allophane, enhance potential enzyme activities in young volcanic soils. However, the actual activity and function of these enzymes may be low under field conditions if stabilization results in less efficient enzyme-substrate interactions. If this is the case, then much of the measured enzyme activity in bulk soil may be stabilized but unlikely to contribute greatly to ecosystem processes.


Allophane Decomposition Extracellular enzyme Ferrihydrite Microbe Sorption 


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I thank Kathleen Treseder, Peter Vitousek, and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments that improved the manuscript. This research was funded by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Earth System ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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