, Volume 125, Issue 1, pp 97–114 | Cite as

Rapid cycling of recently fixed carbon in a Spartina alterniflora system: a stable isotope tracer experiment

  • Amanda C. Spivak
  • Jennifer Reeve


Carbon dynamics in vegetated ecosystems are influenced by plants, belowground bacteria, and their interactions. Consequently, quantifying the fate of new plant production, identifying bacterial carbon sources, and evaluating plant–microbe interactions can provide insight to carbon cycling and storage. To follow short-term carbon transformations in a Spartina alterniflora—soil system, we applied 13C-labeled CO2 to aboveground leaves and chased it belowground into roots and bacterial lipids. Plant mesocosms were exposed to 13CO2 for 0, 1, 3, or 6 h. Incorporation of 13CO2 by plants and soil microbes was measured immediately after the incubation (Day 0) and 24 h later (Day 1). During a 24 h period, 41–64 % of the 13CO2 fixed by S. alterniflora was retained in leaves, 2.7–6.4 % was transferred to roots, and 30–55 % was lost via respiration. Small fractions of 13C assimilated by aboveground leaves were detected belowground in bacterial lipids on Day 1. Enrichment of lipids specific to sulfate reducing bacteria (10-methyl C16:0, cy-C17:0) indicated tight coupling between aboveground plant production and belowground anaerobic metabolisms. Overall, we found that a substantial fraction of new production was returned to the atmosphere within 24 h and that belowground bacteria were tightly coupled to plant dynamics.


Carbon cycling Wetland Stable isotope Lipid biomarkers Spartina alterniflora Mesocosm Respiration 



Thanks to J.W. Pohlman for providing access to the CRDS instruments that were used to collect the CO2 gas flux data and constructive input on earlier versions of this manuscript. Many thanks to S. Sievert, A. Giblin, Z. Cardon, and F. Thomas for conversations that guided the experimental setup, design, and sampling. We greatly appreciate the Plum Island Ecosystem Long Term Ecological Research site (PIE-LTER; NSF-Award 1238212) for allowing us to collect plant cores and peat for this experiment. M. Diaz, B. McLaughlin, M.A. Wunderly, J. Nelson, and K. Hoering helped with sample collection. G. Swarr and J. Tagliaferre prepared samples and conducted analyses. This manuscript was improved by comments from C. S. Hopkinson, S. C. Neubauer, M. Osland, and two anonymous reviewers. J. Reeve was supported by WHOI’s Summer Student Fellow program while Woods Hole Partnership in Education Program supported B. McLaughlin and M. Diaz. Our study was funded by WHOI’s Coastal Ocean Institute with additional support from WHOI.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry DepartmentWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Haverford CollegeHaverfordUSA
  3. 3.School of Earth and Ocean SciencesUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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