Priming effects (PEs) are defined as short-term changes in the turnover of soil organic matter (SOM) caused by the addition of easily degradable organic compounds to the soil. PEs are ubiquitous but the direction (acceleration or retardation of SOM decomposition) and magnitude are not easy to predict. It has been suggested that the ratio between the amount of added PE-triggering substrate to the size of initial soil microbial biomass is an important factor influencing PEs. However, this is mainly based on comparison of different studies and not on direct experimentation. The aim of the current study is to examine the impact of glucose-to-microbial biomass ratios on PEs for three different ecosystems. We did this by adding three different amounts of 13C-glucose with or without addition of mineral N (NH4NO3) to soils collected from arable lands, grasslands and forests. The addition of 13C-glucose was equivalent to 15%, 50% and 200% of microbial biomass C. After one month of incubation, glucose had induced positive PEs for almost all the treatments, with differences in magnitude related to the soil origin and the amount of glucose added. For arable and forest soils, the primed C increased with increasing amount of glucose added, whereas for grassland soils this relationship was negative. We found positive correlations between glucose-derived C and primed C and the strength of these correlations was different among the three ecosystems considered. Generally, additions of mineral N next to glucose (C:N = 15:1) had little effect on the flux of substrate-derived C and primed C. Overall, our study does not support the hypothesis that the trigger-substrate to microbial biomass ratio can be an important predictor of PEs. Rather our results indicate that the amount of energy obtained from decomposing trigger substrates is an important factor for the magnitude of PEs.
Di Lonardo, P., De Boer, W., Zweers, A. J., & Van der Wal, A. (2019). Effect of the amount of organic trigger compounds, nitrogen and soil microbial biomass on the magnitude of priming of soil organic matter. PLoS One, 15(5), . https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216730