iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Soil C:N stoichiometry controls carbon sink partitioning between above-ground tree biomass and soil organic matter in high fertility forests

Giorgio Alberti (1-7)   , Sara Vicca (2), Ilaria Inglima (3), Luca Belelli-Marchesini (4-5), Lorenzo Genesio (6), Franco Miglietta (6-7), Hrvoje Marjanovic (8), Cristina Martinez (6-9), Giorgio Matteucci (10-11), Ettore D’Andrea (11), Alessandro Peressotti (1), Fabio Petrella (12), Mirco Rodeghiero (13), Maria Francesca Cotrufo (14)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 8, Issue 2, Pages 195-206 (2015)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor1196-008
Published: Aug 26, 2014 - Copyright © 2015 SISEF

Research Articles

The release of organic compounds from roots is a key process influencing soil carbon (C) dynamics and nutrient availability in terrestrial ecosystems. Through this process, plants stimulate microbial activity and soil organic matter (SOM) mineralization thus releasing nitrogen (N) that sustains gross and net primary production (GPP and NPP, respectively). Root inputs also contribute to SOM formation. In this study, we quantified the annual net root-derived C input to soil (Net-Croot) across six high fertility forests using an in-growth core isotope technique. On the basis of Net-Croot, wood and coarse root biomass changes, and eddy covariance data, we quantified net belowground C sequestration. Belowground C accumulation and GPP were inversely related to soil C:N, but not to climate or stand age. Soil C content and C:N were also related to soil texture. At these high fertility sites, biomass growth did not change with soil C:N; however, biomass growth-to-GPP ratio significantly increased with increasing soil C:N. This was true for both our six forest sites and for another 23 high fertility sites selected at a global scale. We suggest that, at high fertility sites, plant N demand interacts with soil C:N stoichiometry and microbial activity, resulting in higher allocation of C to above ground tree biomass with increasing soil C:N ratio. When C:N is high, microbes have a low C use efficiency, respire more of the fresh C inputs by roots and prime SOM decomposition, thereby increasing N availability for tree uptake. Soil C sequestration would therefore decrease, whereas the extra N released during SOM decomposition can promote tree growth and ecosystem C sink allocation in aboveground biomass. Conversely, C is sequestered in soil when low soil C:N promotes microbial C use efficiency and new SOM formation and stabilization on clay particles.


Net Root-derived Carbon, Ingrowth Cores, Soil C:N, Carbon Sequestration, Carbon Partitioning, Isotopes

Authors’ address

Giorgio Alberti
Giorgio Matteucci
Alessandro Peressotti
Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, University of Udine, Udine (Italy)
Sara Vicca
Research Group of Plant and Vegetation Ecology, Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk (Belgium)
Ilaria Inglima
Department of Environmental Science, Second University of Naples, Caserta (Italy)
Luca Belelli-Marchesini
Department for Innovation in Biological, Agro-food and Forest systems, University of Tuscia, Viterbo (Italy)
Luca Belelli-Marchesini
Earth and Climate Cluster, Department of Earth Sciences, VU University Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
Lorenzo Genesio
Franco Miglietta
Cristina Martinez
Institute of Biometeorology, National Research Council of Italy - CNR/IBIMET, Firenze (Italy)
Giorgio Alberti
Franco Miglietta
MOUNTFOR Project Centre, European Forest Institute, Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach (FEM), v. E. Mach 1, I-38010 San Michele all’Adige, TN (Italy)
Hrvoje Marjanovic
Croatian Forest Research Institute, Jastrebarsko (Croatia)
Cristina Martinez
Foxlab Joint CNR-FEM Initiative, v. E. Mach 1, I-38010 San Michele all’Adige, TN (Italy)
Giorgio Matteucci
Institute for Agriculture and Forestry System in the Mediterranean, National Research Council of Italy - CNR/ISAFOM, Rende, CS (Italy)
Giorgio Matteucci
Ettore D’Andrea
Institute of Agroenvironmental and Forest Biology, National Research Council of Italy - CNR/IBAF, Monterotondo, RM (Italy)
Fabio Petrella
Istituto per le Piante da Legno e l’Ambiente - IPLA, Turin (Italy)
Mirco Rodeghiero
Department of Sustainable Agro-ecosystems and Bioresources, Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach (FEM), v. E. Mach 1, I-38010 San Michele all’Adige (Italy)
Maria Francesca Cotrufo
Department of Soil and Crop Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado (USA)

Corresponding author

Giorgio Alberti


Alberti G, Vicca S, Inglima I, Belelli-Marchesini L, Genesio L, Miglietta F, Marjanovic H, Martinez C, Matteucci G, D’Andrea E, Peressotti A, Petrella F, Rodeghiero M, Cotrufo MF (2015). Soil C:N stoichiometry controls carbon sink partitioning between above-ground tree biomass and soil organic matter in high fertility forests. iForest 8: 195-206. - doi: 10.3832/ifor1196-008

Academic Editor

Giustino Tonon

Paper history

Received: Dec 06, 2013
Accepted: Jul 13, 2014

First online: Aug 26, 2014
Publication Date: Apr 01, 2015
Publication Time: 1.47 months

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