The relationship between microbial carbon and the resource quality of soil carbon

EA Webster, DW Hopkins, JA Chudek, SFI Haslam, M Simek, T Pîcek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


The biological health of soil is an important aspect of soil quality because of the many critical functions performed by organisms in soil. Various indicators of soil quality have been proposed, but measurements of microbial biomass are most commonly used. During decomposition of plant residues in soil the relative intensities of the O-alkyl-C signal decreases and the alkyl-C signal increases in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectra. This leads to the suggestion that the alkyl-C to O-alkyl-C ratio of a soil may indicate the degree of decomposition. Consequently, the overall resource quality of soil C as a substrate for heterotrophic microorganisms may be inversely related to the alkyl-C to O-alkyl-C ratio. Our hypothesis is that a relationship exists between the size of the soil microbial community (microbial biomass) and the quality of soil carbon as a resource for microorganisms. New data have been combined with previously published data to show that there was a significant, negative correlation between the biomass C to total C (Cmic, to Corg) ratio and the alkyl-C to O-alkyl-C ratio (p < 0.01), which supports our hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-150
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
Publication statusPrint publication - 24 Feb 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomass
  • Carbon
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Plants metabolism
  • Soil microbiology


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