Volatile and Dissolved Organic Carbon Sources Have Distinct Effects on Microbial Activity, Nitrogen Content, and Bacterial Communities in Soil

Steven G. McBride, Ernest D. Osburn, Jane M. Lucas, Julia S. Simpson, Taylor Brown, J. E. Barrett, Michael S. Strickland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Variation in microbial use of soil carbon compounds is a major driver of biogeochemical processes and microbial community composition. Available carbon substrates in soil include both low molecular weight-dissolved organic carbon (LMW-DOC) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To compare the effects of LMW-DOC and VOCs on soil chemistry and microbial communities under different moisture regimes, we performed a microcosm experiment with five levels of soil water content (ranging from 25 to 70% water-holding capacity) and five levels of carbon amendment: a no carbon control, two dissolved compounds (glucose and oxalate), and two volatile compounds (methanol and α-pinene). Microbial activity was measured throughout as soil respiration; at the end of the experiment, we measured extractable soil organic carbon and total extractable nitrogen and characterized prokaryotic communities using amplicon sequencing. All C amendments increased microbial activity, and all except oxalate decreased total extractable nitrogen. Likewise, individual phyla responded to specific C amendments—e.g., Proteobacteria increased under addition of glucose, and both VOCs. Further, we observed an interaction between moisture and C amendment, where both VOC treatments had higher microbial activity than LMW-DOC treatments and controls at low moisture. Across moisture and C treatments, we identified that Chloroflexi, Nitrospirae, Proteobacteria, and Verrucomicrobia were strong predictors of microbial activity, while Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Thaumarcheota strongly predicted soil extractable nitrogen. These results indicate that the type of labile C source available to soil prokaryotes can influence both microbial diversity and ecosystem function and that VOCs may drive microbial functions and composition under low moisture conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-668
Number of pages10
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Amplicon sequencing
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Microbial community composition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science


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