Explorations of soil microbial processes driven by dissolved organic carbon
Angela L. Straathof
June 17, 2015, Wageningen UR
Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is a complex, heterogeneous mixture of C compounds which, as a substrate, may influence various processes of the soil microbial community. Microbial respiration and volatile production are two such processes. These have both been linked to general disease suppression (GDS), a phenomenon in agricultural soils which inhibits pathogenic infestation in crops. The underlying hypothesis of this thesis is that the quality of DOC, via regulation of microbial processes, may be an important indicator of soil functions, including GDS. Properties of DOC quality include proportions of hydrophobic and hydrophilic fractions, and aromaticity. This thesis describes a high range in DOC fractions from various types of compost, which is often added to soil as an amendment to promote GDS. Differences in soil microbial respiration rates were attributed to differences in the composition of compost DOC added to soil in a laboratory incubation experiment. Compost DOC high in proportion of the hydrophilic (Hi) fraction promoted respiration rates. Depletion of the hydrophobic humic acid (HA) fraction was also observed. The relationship between DOC and microbial respiration was further explored in a survey of 50 arable soils. Both HA and Hi fractions of DOC that were found to be statistically, significantly related to respiration rates in these soils. Furthermore, in an assay measuring in vitro pathogen suppression by microbial volatile production, DOC concentration and microbial respiration were linked to growth suppression of Rhizoctonia solani, Fusarium oxysporum, and Pythium intermedium via multivariate regression modelling. This thesis provides evidence for the importance of DOC and DOC quality’s influence on microbial respiration and volatile production, thus supporting the hypothesis that DOC is a microbially-relevant soil chemical parameter, and potential indicator of general disease suppression in agricultural soils.