Temperature and precipitation effects on δ13C depth profiles in SOM under temperate beech forests

Brunn, Melanie; Spielvogel, Sandra; Sauer, Tilmann; Oelmann, Yvonne (2014). Temperature and precipitation effects on δ13C depth profiles in SOM under temperate beech forests. Geoderma, 235-236, pp. 146-153. Elsevier Science 10.1016/j.geoderma.2014.07.007

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Enrichment of 13C in SOM with soil depth is related to interacting processes influenced by temperature and precipitation. Our objectives were to derive climate effects on patterns of vertical δ13C values of soil organic matter (SOM) while minimizing the effect of confounding variables.

We investigated vertical changes in δ13C values of SOM in 1-cm depth intervals in silvicultural mature beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forest ecosystems in northern Rhineland-Palatinate across gradients of MAT (7.9 to 9.7 °C mean annual temperature) and MAP (607 to 1085 mm mean annual precipitation) in winter 2011. Forest stands (n = 10) were chosen based on data sets provided by the Rhineland-Palatinate Forest Administration so that variations in these gradients occurred while other environmental factors like physico-chemical soil properties, tree species, stand age, exposition and precipitation (for the temperature gradient) or temperature (for the precipitation gradient) did not differ among study sites.

From litter down to the mineral soil at 10 cm depth, soil organic carbon (SOC) content decreased (47.5 ± SE 0.1% to 2.5 ± 0.1%) while the δ13C values increased (− 29.4 ± 0.1‰ to − 26.1 ± 0.1‰). Litter of sites under higher MAP/lower MAT had lower δ13C values which was in line with literature data on climate driven plant physiological process. To compare the dimension of the vertical 13C enrichment, δ13C values were regressed linearly against log-transformed carbon contents yielding absolute values of these slopes (beta). Beta values ranged between 0.6 and 4.5 (range of r from − 0.7 to − 1.0; p < 0.01). Due to an assumed decay continuum and similar variations of δ13C values in litter and in 10 cm depth, we conclude that effects on isotope composition in the Oi layer continue vertically and therefore, δ13C values in litter do not solely control beta values. Beta values decreased with increasing MAT (r = − 0.83; p < 0.05). Reduced soil moisture and therefore both, reduced microbial activity and reduced downward transport of microbial cycled DOM (=13C enriched) might be responsible for less pronounced δ13C depth profiles in case of high temperatures. Greater C:N ratios (lower degradability) of the litter under higher temperatures likely contributed to these depth trends. Beta values increased with increasing MAP (r = 0.73; p < 0.05). We found decreasing C:N ratios in the mineral soil that possibly indicates higher decomposition under higher precipitation. Exclusion of the organic layers from linear regressions indicated a stronger impact of MAP on the development of δ13C depth profiles.

Our results confirm temperature and precipitation effects on δ13C depth profiles and indicate stronger 13C enrichment under lower MAT/higher MAP. Therefore, time series of vertical δ13C depth profiles might provide insights into climate change effects.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Soil Science

UniBE Contributor:

Spielvogel, Sandra Irene


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




Elsevier Science




Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

14 Sep 2015 13:20

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:49

Publisher DOI:






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