Journal article Open Access

Strengthening the soil organic carbon pool by increasing contributions from recalcitrant aliphatic bio(macro)molecules

Lorenz, Klaus; Lal, Rattan; Preston, Caroline M.; Nierop, Klaas G. J.

Photosynthetically fixed CO2 is converted into terrestrial bio(macro)molecules and sequestered as soil organic matter (SOM) by (bio)chemical and physical stabilization processes. SOM is generally divided in arbitrary pools for modeling SOM dynamics. Biochemically recalcitrant SOM fractions are enriched with alkyl carbon (C) structures and resist decomposition due to intrinsic molecular properties. The proportion of alkyl C and the mean age of SOM increase with increase in soil depth. Precursors of these recalcitrant bio(macro)molecules such as glycerides, waxes, and terpenoids occur in plants, microorganisms and animals. The intrinsic biochemical stability of naturally occurring recalcitrant aliphatic biomacromolecules may enhance the terrestrial storage of atmospheric CO2. Also, aliphatic macromolecules may be formed in soils upon non-enzymatic polymerization of low-molecular-weight lipids. In this review we propose that increasing the soil organic carbon (SOC) pool by land-use and management practices should also include strategies to increase the proportion of aliphatic compounds in the belowground biomass. Thus, collaborative research is needed to study the fate of plant-, microbial- and animal-derived aliphatic C as precursors for stabilized aliphatic SOC fractions, in particular in deeper soil horizons.

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