Experimental micropedology—A technique for investigating soil carbonate biogenesis along a desert-grassland-forest transect, New Mexico, USA .


Manipulative experiments—characterized by the comparing treatments to controls—are widespread in scientific investigations. This study uses experimental micropedology to investigate whether soil microbes precipitate carbonate if a liquid growth-medium is applied to soil in situ. This was undertaken using apparatuses designed to (1) obtain micromorphological images of biogenic carbonate on microscope slides, (2) to quantify carbonate formation in fiberglass cloths, and (3) to measure associated carbon-isotope fractionations. The apparatuses were buried and harvested at monthly intervals from December 2010 to June 2011. The study was conducted along an ecological transect in New Mexico, USA, at three sites: a low-elevation desert (C3 shrubs), an intermediate-elevation steppe (C4 grasses), and a high-elevation forest (C3 conifers). In addition to comparing bioclimatic zones, the effect of parent material was also tested using paired limestone and igneous soils at each site. Microscope slides were analyzed with binocular, petrographic, and scanning electron microscopy equipped with an x-ray microanalyser (EDS), and the fiberglass traps were analyzed with x-ray diffraction and a mass spectrometer for carbon concentrations and isotope ratios. Naturally occurring calcified microbes were found at each site in the form of calcified hyphae, needle fiber, and calcified root hairs, with the exception of the forest site on igneous parent material. Liquid growth medium induced microbial calcification regardless of whether the vegetation was desert shrubs, grassland, or forest, and regardless of whether the parent material was igneous or limestone. Thus, the ability of soil microorganisms to biomineralize carbonate when supplied with liquid growth medium in situ is a phenomenon that crosses biomes and is not limited to microbes endemic to either limestone or igneous parent material.
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