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Plant litter enhances degradation of the herbicide MCPA and increases formation of biogenic non-extractable residues in soil

Nowak, Karolina M.; Miltner, Anja; Poll, Christian; Kandeler, Ellen; Streck, Thilo; Pagel, Holger

FG Geobiotechnologie

Amendment of soils with plant residues is common practice for improving soil quality. In addition to stimulated microbial activity, the supply of fresh soluble organic (C) from litter may accelerate the microbial degradation of chemicals in soils. Therefore, the aim of this study was to test whether the maize litter enhances degradation of 4-chloro-2-methylphenoxyacetic acid (MCPA) and increases formation of non-toxic biogenic non-extractable residues (bioNERs). Soil was amended with 13C6-MCPA and incubated with or without litter addition on the top. Three soil layers were sampled with increasing distance from the top: 0–2 mm, 2–5 mm and 5–20 mm; and the mass balance of 13C6-MCPA transformation determined. Maize litter promoted microbial activity, mineralization of 13C6-MCPA and bioNER formation in the upper two layers (0–2 and 2–5 mm). The mineralization of 13C6-MCPA in soil with litter increased to 27% compared to only 6% in the control. Accordingly, maize addition reduced the amount of extractable residual MCPA in soil from 77% (control) to 35% of initially applied 13C6-MCPA. While non-extractable residues (NERs) were <6% in control soil, litter addition raised NERs to 21%. Thereby, bioNERs comprised 14% of 13C6-MCPA equivalents. We found characteristic differences of bioNER formation with distance to litter. While total NERs in soil at a distance of 2–5 mm were mostly identified as 13C-bioNERs (97%), only 45–46% of total NERs were assigned to bioNERs in the 0–2 and 5–20 mm layers. Phospholipid fatty acid analysis indicated that fungi and Gram-negative bacteria were mainly involved in MCPA degradation. Maize-C particularly stimulated fungal activity in the adjacent soil, which presumably facilitated non-biogenic NER formation. The plant litter accelerated formation of both non-toxic bioNERs and non-biogenic NERs. More studies on the structural composition of non-biogenic NERs with toxicity potential are needed for future recommendations on litter addition in agriculture.