Understanding the composition of soil organic matter (SOM) is vital to our understanding of how soils form, evolve and respond to external stimuli. The shear complexity of SOM, an inseparable mixture of thousands of compounds hinders the determination of structure-function relationships required to explore these processes on a molecular level. Litter bags and soil hot water extracts (HWE) have frequently been used to study the transformation of labile SOM, however these are still too complex to examine beyond compound classes. In this work, a much simpler mixture, HWE buried green tea, was investigated by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry (FT-ICR-MS), as a proxy for labile SOM. Changes induced by the burial over 90 days in a grassland, woodland and two peatland sites, one damaged by drainage and one undergoing restoration by drain-blocking, were analysed. Major differences between the extracts were observed on the level of compound classes, molecular formulae and specific molecules. The causes of these differences are discussed with reference to abiotic and biotic processes. Despite the vastly different detection limits of NMR and MS, chemometric analysis of the data yielded identical separation of the samples. These findings provide a basis for the molecular level interrogation of labile SOM and C-cycling processes in soils.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Authors would like to acknowledge L. MacKay, F. Cruikshank for their maintenance of the FT-ICR-MS facility and L. Murray and J. Bella for maintaining the NMR facility. We also acknowledge J. Marshall from SRUC and J. Warman from SWT for granting access to the studied sites. N. G. A. Bell would like to acknowledge the support of a NERC Soil Security Programme Fellowship (NE/N020227/1) to conduct this work.
© 2020, The Author(s).