Agronomic amendments drive a diversity of real and apparent priming responses within a grassland soil

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Soil carbon (C) sequestration is often viewed as a nature-based solution to help mitigate climate change. Key to realising this potential is a better understanding of which C inputs promote greater long-term C storage. The priming effect (PE) is the change in rates of microbial soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition caused by the addition of organic or mineral amendments to soil. The apparent PE (changes in CO2 from microbial biomass turnover) of substrates is often studied as a confounding factor, however, the real PE (decomposition of native SOM) is rarely measured due to uncertainties in C pool differentiation. Here, we used a 50-day mesocosm study to compare the effect of various common soil amendments (wood biochar and ash, protein, amino acids, glucose, cellulose, cattle farmyard manure (FYM), cattle slurry, inorganic N fertiliser, and different ratios of wheat straw:shoot mixes) on the real and apparent PEs of soil, using 5-year old quasi-stable 14C-labelled SOM and 14C-labelled active microbial biomass, respectively. Our results show that there are often significant differences in the real and apparent PE, for the same amendment, with variance in magnitude and, in some case, direction. We identified few consistent drivers of PE across the two assays, however, there was a negative relationship between the initial C:N ratio of the treatment and PEs, suggesting that while the nutrient stoichiometry of the C amendment is important, the usability and quality of the substrate for the microbial community are key to determining its priming response. Equally, context is important for interpretation, as treatments that elicit positive priming may still be replenishing or increasing soil C stocks.


  • priming effect, soil organic matter, carbon turnover, 14C isotope dynamics, soil respiration
Original languageEnglish
Article number109265
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024
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