It has been recognized that land use change affects soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and the associated microbial turnover. However, the contribution of microbial residue to SOC storage remains largely unknown in land use change processes. To this end, we adopted a “space for time” approach to examine the dynamics of SOC and amino sugars, which was a biomarker of microbial residue C, in different natural forest conversions. Three typical converted forests were selected: an assisted natural regeneration (ANR) and two coniferous plantations of Cunninghamia lanceolata
(Lamb.) Hook (Chinese fir) and Pinus massoniana
Lamb. (pine) each. All of these were developed at the same time after the harvest of an old natural forest and they were used to evaluate the effects of forest conversions with contrasting anthropogenic disturbance on SOC and microbial residue C, along with the natural forest. Natural forest conversion led to an approximately 42% decrease in SOC for ANR with low anthropogenic disturbance, 60% for the Chinese fir plantation, and 64% for the pine plantation. In contrast, the natural forest conversion led to a 32% decrease in the total amino sugars (TAS) for ANR, 43% for the Chinese fir plantation, and 54% for the pine plantation at a soil depth of 0–10 cm. The ratios of TAS to SOC were significantly increased following natural forest conversion, with the highest ratio being observed in the Chinese fir plantation, whereas the ratios of glucosamine to muramic acid (GluN/MurA) were significantly decreased in the two plantations, but not in ANR. The contents of SOC, individual amino sugar, or TAS, and GluN/MurA ratios were consistently higher at a soil depth of 0–10 cm than at 10–20 cm for all of the experimental forests. Redundancy analysis showed that microbial residue C was significantly correlated with SOC, and both were positively correlated with fine root biomass, annual litterfall, and soil available phosphorus. Taken together, our findings demonstrated that microbial residue C accumulation varied with SOC and litter input, and played a more important role in SOC storage following forest conversion to plantations with higher anthropogenic disturbance.
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