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Anthropogenic and climate influences on biogeochemical dynamics and molecular-level speciation of soil sulfur

Solomon, D., Lehmann, J., Kinyangi, J., Pell, A., Theis, J., Riha, S., Ngoze, S., Amelung, W., Preez, C.D., Machado, S., Ellert, B., Janzen, H. (2009). Anthropogenic and climate influences on biogeochemical dynamics and molecular-level speciation of soil sulfur, 19(4), 989-1002.


The soil environment is a primary component of the global biogeochemical sulfur (S) cycle, acting as a source and sink of various S species and mediating oxidation state changes. However, ecological significance of the various S forms and the impacts of human intervention and climate on the amount and structural composition of these compounds are still poorly understood. We investigated the long-term influences of anthropogenically mediated transitions from natural to managed ecosystems on molecular-level speciation, biogeochemical dynamics, and the apparent temperature sensitivity of S moieties in temperate, subtropical, and tropical environments with mean annual temperature (MAT) ranging from 5°C to 21°C, using elemental analysis and X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy. Land-use and land-cover changes led to the depletion of total soil S in all three ecoregions over a period of up to 103 years. The largest decline occurred from tropical forest agroecosystems (67% Kakamega and 76% Nandi, Kenya), compared to losses from temperate (36% at Lethbridge, Canada, and 40% at Pendleton, USA) and subtropical (48% at South Africa) grassland agroecosystems. The total S losses correlated significantly with MAT. Anthropogenic interventions profoundly altered the molecular-level composition and resulted in an apparent shift in oxidation states of organic S from native ecosystems composed primarily of S moieties in intermediate and highly reduced oxidation states toward managed agroecosystems dominated by organic S rich in strongly oxidized functionalities. The most prominent change occurred in thiols and sulfides, the proportion of which decreased by 46% (Lethbridge) and 57% (Pendleton) in temperate agroecosystems, by 46% in subtropical agroecosystems, and by 79% (Nandi) and 81% (Kakamega) in tropical agroecosystems. The proportion of organic S directly linked to O increased by 81%, 168%, 40%, 92%, and 85%, respectively. Among the various organic S functionalities, thiols and sulfides seem to have higher apparent temperature sensitivity, and thus these organic S moieties may become prone to losses due to land-use changes, even from the cooler regions of the world if MAT of these regions rise in the future. © 2009 by the Ecological Society of America.

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