Chemical characterization of microbial-dominated soil organic matter in the Garwood Valley, Antarctica

Xiaojuan Feng, André J. Simpson, Edward G. Gregorich, Bo Elberling, David W. Hopkins, Ashley D. Sparrow, Philip M. Novis, Lawrence G. Greenfield, Myrna J. Simpson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Despite its harsh environmental conditions, terrestrial Antarctica contains a relatively large microbial biomass. Natural abundance carbon and nitrogen stable isotope signatures of organic materials in the dry valleys indicate mixed provenance of the soil organic matter (SOM) with varying proportions of contributions from lichens, mosses, lake-derived algae and cyanobacteria. Here we employed two complementary analytical techniques, biomarker measurements by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and solution-state 1H nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to provide further information at a molecular-level about the composition and possible source of SOM in the Garwood Valley, Antarctica. The predominance of branched alkanes and short-chain lipids in the solvent extracts indicates that the primary contribution to the SOM was microbial-derived. Chemical structures in the NaOH extracts from soils were also dominated by amide, peptides, and a CH3-dominating aliphatic region that were characteristic of microbial signatures. Furthermore, the SOM in the Garwood Valley contained compounds that were different from those in the cyanobacteria-dominated mat from a nearby lake (including monoethyl alkanes and enriched side-chain protons). This observation suggests that easily degradable carbon sources from the nearby lake did not dominate the SOM, which is consistent with a fast turnover of the mat-derived organic matter found in the valley. This study highlights the important role of native soil microbes in the carbon transformation and biogeochemistry in terrestrial Antarctica.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6485-6498
Number of pages14
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number22
Publication statusPrint publication - 15 Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


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