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Biological activity and organic matter mineralization of soils amended

with biowaste composts
Jens Leifeld1,3*, Stefanie Siebert2, and Ingrid Kögel-Knabner1
Lehrstuhl für Bodenkunde, Wissenschaftszentrum Weihenstephan für Ernährung, Landnutzung und Umwelt, TU
München, D-85350 Freising-Weihenstephan, Germany
VHE-NRW, D-40479 Düsseldorf, Germany
present address: Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture, Reckenholzstrasse 191,
CH-8046 Zürich, Switzerland

Accepted 9 February 2002

Summary ± Zusammenfassung Bodenbiologische Aktivität und Mineralisie-

rung der organischen Substanz nach
This study aims to elucidate the significance of compost and soil Anwendung von Bioabfallkomposten
characteristics for the biological activity of compost-amended soils.
Two agricultural soils (Ap horizon, loamy arable Orthic Luvisol
Ziel dieser Arbeit ist es, die Bedeutung von Kompost- und
and Ah horizon, sandy meadow Dystric Cambisol) and a humus-
Bodeneigenschaften für die bodenbiologische Aktivität nach Kom-
free sandy mineral substrate were amended with two biowaste
postanwendung zu charakterisieren. Zwei Bioabfallkomposte unter-
composts of different maturity in a controlled microcosm system
schiedlichen Rottegrades wurden in zwei landwirtschaftliche Böden
for 18 months at 5 oC and 14 oC, respectively. Compost application
(Ap-Horizont Parabraunerde aus Löss, Ah-Horizont einer sandigen
increased the organic matter mineralization, the Cmic : Corg ratio,
Braunerde, Wiesennutzung) und einen sandigen Rekultivierungs-
and the metabolic quotients significantly in all treatments. The total
boden (humusfrei) eingearbeitet. Die Inkubation erfolgte bei 5 oC
amount of Corg mineralized ranged from < 1 % (control plots) to
und 14 oC für 18 Monate in Mikrokosmen. Durch Kompostanwen-
20 % (compost amended Dystric Cambisol). Incubation at 14 oC
dung erhöhten sich die Cmik : Corg-Verhältnisse, die Corg-Minera-
resulted in 2.7- to 4-fold higher cumulative Corg mineralization
lisierungsraten und die metabolischen Quotienten signifikant. Im
compared to 5 oC. The Cmic : Corg ratios of the compost-amended
Verlauf der Inkubation wurden < 1 % (Kontrollen) bis 20 % des
plots declined rapidly during the first 6 months and reached a
Corg mineralisiert. Die CO2-Summe lag bei 14 oC 2,5±4-fach höher
similar range as the control plots at the end of the experiment. This
als bei 5 oC. Im Verlauf von 6 Monaten sanken die Cmik : Corg-
effect may identify the compost-derived microbial biomass as an
Verhältnisse auf das Niveau der Kontrollen. Die kompostbürtige
easily degradable C source. Decreasing mineralization rates and
mikrobielle Biomasse lässt sich daher vermutlich als leicht
metabolic quotients indicated a shift from a compost-derived to a
abbaubarer C-Pool charakterisieren. Das erhebliche Absinken der
soil-adapted microbial community. The Corg mineralization of the
Mineralisierungsraten sowie der metabolischen Quotienten wird als
compost amended soils was mainly regulated by the compost
Indiz für eine Verschiebung der Zusammensetzung der mikro-
maturity and the soil texture (higher activity in the sandy textured
biellen Biomasse gedeutet. Der Corg-Umsatz bei der jeweiligen
soils). The pattern of biological activity in the compost-amended
Temperatur wurde sowohl durch den Rottegrad des eingesetzten
mineral substrate did not differ markedly from that of the compost-
Kompostes als auch durch die Bodenart bestimmt (schnellerer
amended agricultural soils, showing that the turnover of compost-
Umsatz in sandigen Böden). Der Vergleich der Aktivitätsparameter
derived organic matter dominated the overall decay process in each
zwischen dem Rekultivierungsboden und den beiden Landwirt-
soil. However, a priming effect occurring for the Dystric Cambisol
schaftsböden zeigt eine deutliche Übereinstimmung, die als
indicated, that the effect of compost application may be soil
Dominanz des Komposteinflusses auf die bodenbiologische Akti-
vität interpretiert wird. Ein nur bei der Braunerde beobachteter
Priming Effekt zeigt bodenspezifische Wechselwirkungen zwischen
Key words: biowaste compost / soil microbial biomass / carbon
Kompost und organischer Bodensubstanz.
mineralization / metabolic quotient / soil organic matter /

1 Introduction uncertain as also priming effects of compost on soil organic

matter occur (Sikora and Yakovchenko, 1996). Elevated
Biological activity of soils is affected positively by the respiration rates may be associated also with higher amounts
application of compost (Senesi, 1989; Perucci, 1992; Allievi of microbial biomass in compost amended soils. The
et al., 1993; Giusquiani et al., 1995). A higher activity may function of the microbial biomass in C turnover of
be concomitant with increased basal soil respiration compost-amended soils has not yet received exhaustive
(Jörgensen et al., 1996; Niklasch and Jörgensen, 2001), attention. The aim of this study is to elucidate some of the
most probably due to a preferred decomposition of the interactions between compost application and soil biological
compost-derived organic matter. However, the interaction activity.
between composted and soil organic matter remains
To discriminate effects solely based on elevated amounts of
* Correspondence: Dr. J. Leifeld; E-mail: organic carbon (Corg) in compost-amended soils from effects

J. Plant Nutr. Soil Sci. (2002), 165, 151±159 (2002)  WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH, D-69451 Weinheim, 2002 1436-8730/02/0204-151 $17.50+.50/0
152 Leifeld, Siebert, and Kögel-Knabner

that occur due to compositional differences of the organic incubated for different incubation periods under controlled conditions at a
matter, we used the specific respiration rate (CO2 per unit temperature of 5 C and 14 C, respectively, and at 50 % WHC (maximum
Corg). Elevated specific respiration rates after compost water holding capacity). Microcosms incubated for 18 months were used to
application to soils can be assigned to a higher proportion measure C mineralization (see 2.5). Water content was corrected
gravimetrically once a week. Each microcosm was filled with about 9 kg
of easily degradable compounds in the compost compared to
soil material in the underlying 200 mm and 4.5 kg compost soil mixture in
soil organic matter (SOM). Since composting results in a
the upper 100 mm, corresponding to an application volume (based on dry
continuous loss of labile compounds and a relative enrich-
weight) of about 70 Mg ha±1 (IC) or 65 Mg ha±1 (MC) in the field,
ment of stabilized ones (Senesi, 1989), compost maturity respectively. The quantity of compost was chosen to obtain C and N
may significantly affect the Corg turnover. Respiration rates contents for the mineral soil as found in the A horizons of the agricultural
may also be affected due to priming effects. Besides the soils. Microcosms were covered air-permeable during the experiment. Each
quality of the substrate, physical protection of the organic microcosm experiment was carried out separately for the different
substrate due to the textural composition and aggregation of incubation periods of 59, 168, 368, and 552 d in duplicates. Samples (one
the soil limits its availability and affects the turnover of the per microcosm) were taken at the beginning of the study as aliquots of the
added material (Sùrensen, 1975; Skene et al., 1996). starting materials and at the end of each incubation period as central cores
We used the ratio of microbial biomass C (Cmic) to the Corg from a depth of 5.0 to 95.0 mm to avoid side effects.
(Cmic : Corg) as an indicator for the quality and availability of
the substrate. Quantity and activity of the soil microbial 2.4 Chemical analysis
biomass are closely related to substrate characteristics Contents of organic C (Corg) and total nitrogen (N) were measured for
(Anderson and Domsch, 1989). Compost amendment may freeze dried ball-milled samples with an CHN analyzer (CHN-1000
also alter the specific activity of the soil microbial biomass. LECO). Samples were free of carbonate. The pH was measured with a glass
The metabolic quotient qCO2 was used as an indicator for electrode in the supernatant of a 2.5:1 (w/w) 0.01 mol l±1 CaCl2 suspension
the physiological condition of the soil microbial biomass and of fresh samples.
the efficiency of substrate use (Anderson and Domsch, 1990;
Wu et al., 1993). Thus the qCO2 may also help to monitor 2.5 Organic matter mineralization
changing physiological conditions of the microbial biomass
The Corg mineralization was measured for the microcosms incubated for
after compost application.
522 d. For most of the time, the 522 d microcosms were covered air
This study aims to assess the alteration of the basal permeable like the ones with shorter incubation. To quantify the Corg
respiration and the amount and the physiological status of mineralization, the 522 d microcosms were sealed gas tight periodically
the microbial biomass in soils after compost amendment. (every 1 to 2 weeks) for several hours, and gas samples were taken with a
Since the turnover of the composted material after gas-tight syringe and analyzed for CO2 by gas chromatography (HP5890
application to soils may affect the SOM turnover and vice Series II, TCD, packed column, detector temperature 110 C, column
versa, a sandy, humus-free mineral substrate was included temperature 50 C, carrier gas He 5.0). Total Corg mineralized was
into the experiments to eliminate these mutual effects. calculated as cumulative CO2-emission.

2.6 Microbial biomass C (Cmic)

2 Materials and methods
Microbial biomass C (Cmic) was determined by fumigation-extraction
2.1 Soil samples (Vance et al., 1987) with fresh samples taken at the time intervals described
The soils used for the microcosm experiments were (1) a sandy mineral above. Measurement of the starting materials was carried out the day after
substrate (MS), sand: 93.0 %, silt: 4.6 %, clay: 2.4 % (sand 2000 to 63 mm, compost application. 50 g (dry matter equivalent) of a fresh sample were
silt 63 to 2 mm, and clay < 2 mm) from Lusatia, Germany; (2) a sandy divided in two aliquots. The first one was extracted with 200 ml of 0.5 M
Dystric Cambisol (DC) from a meadow site located at Hannover, Germany K2SO4 for 30 min, filtered < 0.45 mm and dissolved organic carbon (DOC)
(Ah horizon, sand: 80.2 %, silt: 14.3 %, clay: 5.6 %), and (3) a loamy was determined with a Shimadzu TOC 5050 analyzer. The second aliquot
Orthic Luvisol (OL) from an arable site close to Witzenhausen, Germany was fumigated with ethanol free CHCl3 for 24 h, the CHCl3 was removed
(Ap horizon, sand: 6.7 %, silt: 73.8 %, clay: 19.6 %). The soil material was and the soil was extracted as described above. Because the viscosity of the
sieved < 4 mm. K2SO4:soil solution (4:1) taken in the original procedure was too high to
pass the 0.45 mm-filter for the compost-amended soils, we operated with a
2.2 Composts K2SO4:soil ratio of 8:1 for all samples. The Cmic was calculated as:
The two biowaste composts were produced from biogenic waste of Cmic = EC : kEC [1]
households and gardens (70:30) and composted in an municipal roof-
covered open windrow system for several weeks. The composts were where EC is (organic C extracted from the fumigated sample) ± (organic C
sieved < 10 mm and compost maturity was determined by self heating test extracted from the non-fumigated sample) and kEC = 0.45 is a conversion
in Dewar vessels according to the German Federal Compost Quality factor for calculating the Cmic content (Wu et al., 1990). Coefficient of
Association (Bundesgütegemeinschaft Kompost e.V., 1994). Maximum variation for the determination of Cmic was 3.4 %.
temperatures of 46 C and 28 C, respectively, were reached by self- Metabolic quotients qCO2 were calculated as:
heating and classified the two composts as immature (IC) and mature
qCO2 = mg CO2-C h±1 g±1 Cmik±1 [2].
compost (MC), respectively.

2.3 Microcosms and operational conditions 2.7 Composition of soil-compost mixtures

Experiments were carried out in microcosms, consisting of a PVC tube The contents of Corg and N, and the pH values of the biowaste composts,
(200 mm diameter, 400 mm length, see Siebert et al., 1996). Samples were the soils and soil-compost mixtures are given in Tab. 1. The immature
Biological activity of soils amended with biowaste composts 153

Table 1: Contents of Corg and N, C : N ratios, and pH values of the soils, detection limit prior to compost application. After compost addition, the
the composts, and the soil-compost mixtures at the beginning of the Corg contents were in the range of the non-amended agricultural soils.
microcosm experiment.
Tabelle 1: Gehalte an Corg und N, C : N-Verhältnisse und pH-Werte der 2.8 Statistics
Böden, der Komposte und der Boden-Kompostgemische zu Versuchsbe-
ginn. The Corg-mineralization rates, Cmic-contents, and metabolic quotients
were ln-transformed and analyzed for variance using sampling date,
Corg N C : N ratio pH temperature, compost, and soil type as factors (statistic software NCSS
a ±1 2000). Significant F-values are given for probability levels (P) 0.05 (* =
Treatment (mg (g dry matter) )
significant), 0.01 (** = highly significant), and 0.001 (*** = very highly
IC 232.7 18.5 13 7.5 significant). With effects £ 0.05, a Fishers©s LSD test was performed to
MC 186.1 15.9 12 7.7 compare pairs at P = 0.05.

MS < 0.5 < 0.1 ND 6.7

MSIC 19.1 2.1 9 7.5
MSMC 15.2 1.5 10 7.7 3 Results
DC 17.4 1.3 14 4.5 3.1 Analysis of variance
DCIC 37.6 1.8 12 6.2
DCMC 34.4 2.0 10 6.5
The analysis of variance for Cmic, Corg mineralized and
qCO2 (Tab. 2) indicates very highly significant effects of
OL 13.0 1.7 7 7.0 sampling date on all response variables. Microbial carbon
OLIC 33.7 3.5 10 7.3 was additionally very highly significantly affected by the
OLMC 35.0 3.8 10 7.4 soil type, but soil type had no effect on carbon mineraliza-
IC: Immature compost, MC: Mature compost, MS: Mineral substrate, tion and metabolic quotients. Temperature was highly
MSIC: Mineral substrate + immature compost, MSMC: Mineral substrate + significant for C mineralized and not significant for Cmic.
mature compost, DC: Dystric Cambisol, DCIC: Dystric Cambisol + Compost had the smallest, but still significant effect of all
immature compost, DCMC: Dystric Cambisol + mature compost, OL: sources of variation.
Orthic Luvisol, OLIC: Orthic Luvisol + immature compost, OLMC: Orthic
Luvisol + mature compost; ND: not determined 3.2 Corg mineralization
The time course of the Corg mineralization during the
compost (IC) was characterized by higher contents of Corg and N as experiment recorded as cumulative CO2-evolution is given
compared to the mature compost (MC). The C : N ratios and pH values of
in Fig. 1. The data refer to the five sampling dates when the
the two composts were similar. The contents of Corg and N of the biowaste
microbial biomass was also determined. The calculation of
composts were 10- to 18-fold higher than in the agricultural soils. A
the decay rate constants and half-lives (T1/2) for the Corg as
pronounced effect of the compost was to increase the pH in all soils, and in
particular in the DC, where the pH increased from 4.5 to 6.2 and 6.5.
given in Tab. 3 are based on all CO2-measurements (n = 41
During the experiment, the pH changed by no more than 0.5 pH units for all to 43).
soils and mixtures. For the compost amended plots, Corg mineralization during
The increase of Corg and N due to adding compost to the soils as well as the experiment followed first order kinetics, resulting in an
changes in the C : N ratios reflects the amount and composition of the increase from 2.1 to 7.0 % of the total Corg mineralized at
composts. Contents of Corg and N of the sandy material were below the 5 C and from 5.6 to 20.2 % at 14 C, respectively. The Corg

Table 2: Results of analysis of variance of Corg mineralization, microbial carbon, and metabolic quotients (ln-transformed data). Probability levels for
significant F-values: 0.05 (*), 0.01 (**), 0.001 (***).
Tabelle 2: Ergebnisse der Varianzanalyse für C-Mineralisierung, Cmik und metabolischen Quotienten (ln-transformierte Daten). Irrtumswahrscheinlich-
keiten für signifikante F-Werte: 0.05 (*), 0.01 (**), 0.001 (***).

Variable ln CO2-rate ln Cmic ln qCO2

Source d.f. s2 F d.f. s2 F d.f. s2 F

Date between 4 41.25 19.85*** 4 4.79 12.25*** 4 31.59 12.42***

within 75 2.08 75 0.39 75 2.54
total 80 4.01 80 0.61 80 3.96
Temperature between 1 27.70 7.37** 1 0.63 1.02 1 28.29 7.64**
within 79 3.76 79 0.61 79 3.70
total 80 4.01 80 0.61 80 3.96
Compost between 2 14.85 3.93* 2 2.74 4.91** 2 12.05 3.17*
within 77 3.78 77 0.56 77 3.81
total 80 4.01 80 0.61 80 3.96
Soil between 2 3.24 0.79 2 5.49 11.26*** 2 6.06 1.53
within 77 4.08 77 0.49 77 3.96
total 80 4.01 80 0.61 80 3.96
154 Leifeld, Siebert, and Kögel-Knabner

DC with compost amendment at both temperatures. The

total amount of Corg mineralized in the compost-amended
OL accounted for only 20 to 50 % of the CO2 released in the
DC and the MS. However, cumulative Corg mineralization
for the controls was 1.5-fold higher in the OL compared to
the DC. The proportion of Corg mineralized in the compost-
amended plots after 59 d of incubation relative to the total
Corg mineralized was 51 to 59 % in the OL and 69 to 83 % in
the DC and the sandy MS (14 C). These results reflect a
smaller and retarded Corg mineralization in the compost-
amended loamy OL compared to the two other soils.
For the cumulative Corg mineralization, the function y =
b[1-exp(-kt)] sufficiently fitted the mineralization dynamics
for the compost amended soils. In this first order kinetics, b
represents the easily mineralizable C pool mineralized with
the rate constant k. A two-compartment-model with different
rate constants did not reflect the mineralization kinetics any
better. Pool sizes, rate constants and estimated half-lives for
the Corg in the compost-amended plots are given in Tab. 3.
Values for the easily mineralizable Corg pool b were
significantly higher at 14 C compared to 5 C in all
compost-amended plots, representing the measured cumu-
lative CO2 mineralization precisely. The decay rate
constants (d±1) are in a relatively narrow range of 0.02 to
0.03 for 5 C excepted the OL with IC, where k was 0.01.
Decay rate constants at 14 C are lower than at 5 C, being in
a range of 0.007 to 0.02. For the control plots, rate constants
were 0.0035 for the DC and 0.0005 for the OL at both

3.3 Microbial biomass

The amount of microbial biomass as mg Cmic g±1 Corg±1 in
the starting materials and during the experiment is given in
Tab. 4. At the beginning of the experiment, contents of Cmic
of the two agricultural soils were 5.5 (DC) and 22.5 mg Cmic
g±1 Corg±1 (OL). Compost application increased the Cmic
content in both soils considerably up to about 70 mg Cmic g±1
Corg±1 with IC and up to 34 to 46 mg Cmic g±1 Corg±1 with
MC, respectively. The significant highest contents of Cmic
were found in the MS, where microbial C accounted for
152.7 mg Cmic g±1 Corg±1 with IC and for 71.6 mg Cmic g±1
Figure 1: Cumulative Corg mineralization during the experiment (% of
Corg±1 with MC, respectively.
initial Corg content). Error bars represent  SD of two microcosms. During the experiment, the amount of Cmic in the DC
Abbildung 1: Kumulierte Mineralisierung des Corg im Verlauf des remained almost constant (5 to 11 mg Cmic g±1 Corg±1)
Experiments (in % des Anfangsgehaltes). Fehlerbalken zeigen  SD der whereas in the OL Cmic decreased continuously from 22 to 8
beiden Mikrokosmen.
mg Cmic g±1 Corg±1. A rapid decrease of Cmic contents was
observed for all compost-amended plots. The decline of the
mineralization at 14 C with compost application was Cmic content in the compost-amended plots during 18
significantly higher (2.7- to 3.8-fold) compared to 5 C. months of incubation accounted for 90 to 94 % of the initial
For the controls the Corg mineralization was < 1 % in all Cmic found in the DC, 65 to 88 % in the OL and 81 to 94 % in
experiments, with the Corg mineralized at 14 C being 4-fold the MS, respectively. The decrease of Cmic was exponential
higher than at 5 C. Decay of the Corg in the control plots in the compost-amended DC with both composts and in the
followed a linear function. MS with IC. In the MS with MC and the OL with IC, the
A distinctly higher Corg mineralization (1.2- to 2.5-fold) decrease of the Cmic was retarded, being almost linear in the
was observed with IC than with MC in the sandy MS and in OL amended with MC. Differences between Cmic contents at
the OL at each temperature and for the DC at 5 C. day 0, day 59, and day 552 were significant (P < 0.05). The
The amount of Corg mineralized was also affected by the relative changes of the Cmic contents are illustrated in Fig. 2,
soil material. The highest Corg mineralization occurred in the where the Cmic content at day 0 was set as 100 %.
Biological activity of soils amended with biowaste composts 155

Table 3: Parameter estimates according to the first order model y = b[1-exp(-kt)] for Corg mineralization of the compost-amended soils (mean of two
microcosms;  SD); T 1/2 for the easily mineralizable carbon pool b. For treatment see Tab. 1.
Tabelle 3: Parameterschätzungen für das Modell mit Abbaukinetik erster Ordnung y = b[1-exp(-kt)] für den Kohlenstoffabbau (Mittel von zwei
Mikrokosmen,  SD); T 1/2 für den leicht mineralisierbaren Kohlenstoffpool b. Zur Beschreibung der Versuchsvarianten s. Tab. 1.

Temperature b K R2 T1/2

Treatment C % Corg d±1 d

MSIC 5 6.43  0.74 0.0223  0.0014 0.996 31

14 16.63  0.47 0.0164  0.0010 0.978 42

MSMC 5 2.59  0.06 0.0294  0.0001 0.990 24

14 8.50  0.02 0.0115  0.0001 0.986 60

DCIC 5 7.00  0.53 0.0236  0.0048 0.973 29

14 18.29  0.23 0.0135  0.0004 0.977 51

DCMC 5 5.15  0.07 0.0259  0.0005 0.980 27

14 18.47  0.77 0.0156  0.0003 0.973 44

OLIC 5 2.50  0.06 0.0100  0.0000 0.996 69

14 9.74  0.23 0.0067  0.0005 0.990 103

OLMC 5 2.07  0.07 0.0299  0.0012 0.958 23

14 5.51  0.43 0.0079  0.0001 0.988 88

Table 4: Amount of microbial biomass (mg Cmic g±1 Corg±1) in the soils and the soil-compost mixtures during the experiment (mean of two microcosms,
 SD). For treatment see Tab. 1
Tabelle 4: Gehalte an mikrobieller Biomasse (mg Cmik g±1 Corg±1) in den Böden und Boden-Kompostgemischen im Versuchsverlauf (Mittel von zwei
Mikrokosmen,  SD). Zur Beschreibung der Versuchsvarianten s. Tab. 1.

Temperature day 1 day 59 day 168 day 366 day 552

Treatment C mg Cmic g Corg±1

MSIC 5 152.7  7.0 61.0  1.1 36.6  2.1 23.9  0.4 26.2  1.6
14 152.7  7.0 38.1  8.7 32.4  4.9 31.3  5.3 9.7  1.6

MSMC 5 71.6  4.1 40.2  4.2 25.1  2.5 19.6  3.2 13.9  1.5
14 71.6  4.1 39.9  0.5 37.5  1.6 11.0  0.3 6.6  2.7

DC 5 5.5  0.1 8.0  0.4 9.4  0.5 7.7  0.4 6.2  2.1
14 5.5  0.1 7.6  0.3 7.9  0.9 10.7  0.1 7.4  0.1

DCIC 5 71.3  9.0 29.7  0.5 16.1  0.2 18.7  1.5 13.6  0.5
14 71.3  9.0 19.6  3.8 20.1  4.0 10.7  0.2 4.0  1.8

DCMC 5 45.8  2.7 16.5  6.6 10.6  0.5 9.4  0.5 12.4  0.3
14 45.8  2.7 13.9  4.2 18.6  0.4 8.4  0.1 4.5  0.2

OL 5 22.5  0.5 28.9  7.2 21.4  0.6 26.4  0.0 11.5  0.0
14 22.5  0.5 21.2  0.3 19.9  0.1 18.3  0.0 7.9  2.1

OLIC 5 72.0  7.1 32.5  9.0 25.2  0.6 19.5  0.0 16.0  0.7
14 72.0  7.1 44.8  6.2 31.5  2.9 14.1  0.6 9.0  1.8

OLMC 5 34.3  0.6 32.0  1.3 18.9  0.9 18.3  1.3 17.9  0.6
14 34.3  0.6 31.5  5.7 28.3  1.7 14.0  0.5 12.0  0.2

At the end of the experiment, the range of Cmic : Corg was 3.4 Metabolic quotient
close among the different plots as compared to the initial Based on the CO2 production and the amount of microbial
values and did not at all depend on the compost treatment. In biomass on the five sampling dates, the metabolic quotient
contrast, the lower incubation temperature affected the Cmic qCO2 was calculated as given in Tab. 5.
at the end of the experiment, resulting in significant higher For the controls, the qCO2 of the DC was 3-fold higher as
Cmic at 5 C for all treatments. compared to the OL at the beginning of the experiment at
156 Leifeld, Siebert, and Kögel-Knabner

Throughout the experiment, the metabolic quotient

decreased exponentially in all soil-compost mixtures and
remained continuously elevated in comparison to the qCO2
of the control plots. The time-course of the qCO2 was
characterized by maximum values for the DC with compost
amendment on almost all sampling dates. A marked increase
of the qCO2 between day 366 and day 559 was observed in
some plots, in particular in the compost-amended DC. At the
end of the experiment, significant differences in qCO2 were
mainly due to the temperature (higher qCO2 at 14 C) and
due to the soil material (highest qCO2 in the DC).

4 Discussion
4.1 Carbon mineralization
The proportion of added organic matter that is mineralized
after compost application ranks from several up to hundred
percent, depending on experimental conditions and compost
type. For a mature biowaste compost (5 months aging),
Jörgensen et al. (1996) found only 5 % C mineralization
during 50 d at 25 C. Distinctly higher C mineralization for
biowaste composts as in our study was observed by Niklasch
and Jörgensen (2001) and by Chodak et al., (2001), who also
described a more rapid decay with immature compost. Since
a shorter composting time will leave degradable compounds
more unaffected, ªyoungº composts contain higher propor-
tions of mineralizable Corg. Our data also show a higher
amount of easily degradable compounds in the biowaste
composts as compared to the native SOM.
According to the hypothesis that compost maturity may
control the Corg mineralization after application, the Corg
mineralization was expected to be higher with IC in all soils.
This was only valid for the MS, representing the decay of the
composts without any interaction with SOM, and for the
compost-amended OL. In the DC, the amount of Corg
mineralized with MC at 14 C was slightly higher as with IC.
Since conditions for microbial activity in the DC were
unfavorable prior to compost application, the improvement
of biological conditions after compost application (pH, C:N)
may have led to a priming effect in the DC, that overlaid the
effect of compost-maturity. The Corg mineralization of the
Figure 2: Relative decreases of Cmic-contents (0 months = 100 %) in the compost-amended DC may also have been supplemented by
compost-amended soils. elevated amounts of nutrients due to compost application
Abbildung 2: Relative Abnahmen der Cmik-Gehalte (0 Monate = 100 %)
der Böden mit Kompost. (Fricke and Vogtmann, 1994). The postulation of a priming
effect is supported by different proportions of Corg
mineralized in the controls. The small CO2 evolution in
each temperature. Due to compost amendment, metabolic the DC without compost reflects the poor conditions for C
quotients were significantly elevated in both soils. Metabolic turnover.
quotients of the compost-amended soils were 40- to 200-fold Besides the influence of compost maturity, the Corg
higher at 5 C and 10- to 30-fold higher at 14 C as mineralization after compost amendment was also related
compared to the controls and were in general 2- to 3-fold to the soil properties. In the OL, the Corg mineralization was
higher at 14 C compared to 5 C. Discriminated by soil distinctly lower at each temperature and showed a retarded
type, the enhancement of the metabolic quotient was highest mineralization compared to the sandy soils, though the
in the DC. Metabolic quotients of the compost-amended MS conditions for biological activity (pH, C:N-ratio, and
were in the range of the compost-amended agricultural soils. nutrient status) were favored in the OL. Hence, other factors
The application of MC caused higher qCO2 in the two such as the texture may have affected the Corg mineralization
agricultural soils whereas the qCO2 in the MS depended only in this soil. Soil texture is often related to C turnover due to
weakly on the compost maturity. physical protection of SOM within aggregates or by
Biological activity of soils amended with biowaste composts 157

Table 5: Metabolic quotient in the soils and the soil-compost mixtures during the experiment (mean of two microcosms;  SD). For treatment see Tab. 1
Tabelle 5: Metabolische Quotienten der Böden und Boden-Kompostgemische im Versuchsverlauf (Mittel von zwei Mikrokosmen,  SD). Zur
Beschreibung der Versuchsvarianten s. Tab. 1.

Temperature day 1 day 59 day 168 day 366 day 552

±1 ±1
Treatment C mg CO2-C h g Cmik±1

MSIC 5 446  125 397  79 32  0 14  1 4 0

14 1199  185 1185  291 94  12 15  4 33  4

MSMC 5 436  35 130  10 30  2 14  1 6 2

14 985  13 670  73 116  8 46  3 64  17

DC 5 16  0 16  0 9 0 30 30
14 216  5 35  1 11  1 11  1 10  1

DCIC 5 980  19 413  21 224  8 16  0 15  2

14 2290  4 1629  238 318  45 96  5 278  77

DCMC 5 1736  45 771  361 123  6 34  1 18  2

14 6664  422 1679  729 277  17 121  8 228  21

OL 5 4 1 3 1 5 0 20 3 0
14 77  1 5 0 8 1 61 11  2

OLIC 5 171  12 201  5 83  3 12  0 9 0

14 746  47 492  64 247  46 48  3 67  15

OLMC 5 889  21 115  7 51  3 17  2 9 1

14 1828  71 490  17 181  25 44  3 40  3

interactions of SOM and soil minerals (Verberne et al., 1990; MC; 5 C, MC) point towards a different quality of the
Skene et al., 1996; Sollins et al., 1996) and may have affected substrate being metabolized, possibly due to a higher
the Corg mineralization in the OL (see also 4.2). However, protection of potentially decomposable compounds.
even in the MSIC, the added compost was stabilized to some
extend (Leifeld et al., 2001).
4.2 Microbial biomass and metabolic quotient
The mineralization kinetics as given by the first order
estimates reflects the integration of compost maturity, Elevated Cmic : Corg ratios as observed in the compost-
incubation temperature and soil characteristics. The higher amended plots at the beginning of the experiment are most
ratio of Corg mineralized at 14 C compared to 5 C for the likely a result of high Cmic contents of the two composts,
controls compared to the soil-compost mixtures indicates a since Cmic of the soil-compost mixtures had been measured
stronger temperature dependency for the decay of the SOM. immediately after compost application. Considering the
The k values for the soil-compost mixtures at 14 C were measured Cmic of the MS originates completely from
even smaller as at 5 C. The k values at 14 C in all compost-derived micro-organisms, Cmic-contents of the
experiments suggest that the substrate respired at 14 C is on composts would account for 153 mg g±1 Corg±1 (IC) and 72
average of different quality compared to 5 C. In first order mg g±1 Corg±1 (MC), respectively. Data of De Nobili et al.
kinetics, k is positively related to the temperature while the (1996), who found microbial C in composts accounting for
pool size is considered to be independent of temperature. In 100 mg g±1 Corg±1, are close to our values. In contrast,
contrast, a temperature dependency upon the size of the Jörgensen et al. (1996) measured a Cmic content of < 10 mg
decomposable C pool like in our experiment was also g±1 Corg±1 for a biowaste compost. As suggested for the
observed by MacDonald et al. (1995) for soils of hardwood proportion of Corg mineralized and the total amount of Corg
forests. Riffaldi et al. (1996) pointed out, that different k- in the study of Jörgensen et al. (1996), the smaller Cmic
values among soils cannot be attributed to differences in the content in their study is considered to be a result of the
relative size of the C pools. It can be concluded that the size extended composting time. Variation in compost quality
of the easily mineralizable C-pool for the compost-amended may also explain the higher amount of Cmic in the soils
soils increases with temperature. The close range of k-values amended with IC, as also described by Niklasch and
for the compost-amended MS and DC at each temperature Jörgensen (2001) for different compost types.
implies a similar quality of substrate being utilized during Microbial biomass decayed rapidly in the compost-
the incubation. Smaller k-values for the OL (14 C, IC and amended plots. The microbial biomass of the controls
158 Leifeld, Siebert, and Kögel-Knabner

decreased at a much smaller rate. The marked decline of A higher protective capacity for Cmic is supposed to be one
microbial biomass during incubation of the compost- reason for the smaller C mineralization in the OL. Compost
amended plots leads to the assumption, that the compost- maturity effects were modified in the acid meadow soil,
derived microbial biomass is a major substrate for the where a priming effect occurred. Interactions between
autochthonous soil community. This assumption is sup- compost maturity and soil type should be considered when
ported by a significant correlation (r = 0.71; P < 0.05) biowaste composts are applied to soils.
between the initial amount of Cmic and the Corg mineralized
at 5 C. The higher proportion of Corg mineralized at 14 C is
reflected by the smaller amount of Cmic remaining at the end Acknowledgments
of the study in all plots, as more available substrate has This work was financially supported by a grant from the German Federal
already been used by the micro-organisms. Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Technology. We thank H.
For the compost-amended soils, texture may have been one Stöppler-Zimmer and U. Petersen (PlanCoTec, Witzenhausen, Germany)
factor controlling the amount of Cmic during the first months for providing the compost samples and C. Schüler (University of Kassel-
of incubation (see also Tab. 2). Textural effects on the Witzenhausen, Department of Ecological Farming) for providing the soil
microbial biomass include interactions among biota like e.g. materials.
protection of micro-organisms against predators (Ladd et al.,
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acid metabolites synthesized in soils during decomposition of cellulose. MS Mineral substrate
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