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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Ecosystems
Title of proceedings Ecosystems


Drought is predicted to increase in many areas of the world with consequences for soil carbon (C) dynamics. Plant litter, root exudates and microbial biomass can be used as C substrates to form organo-mineral complexes. Drought effects on plants and microbes could potentially compromise these relative stable soil C pools, by reducing plant C inputs and/or microbial activity. We conducted a 2-years drought experiment using rainout shelters in a semi-natural grassland. We measured aboveground biomass and C and nitrogen (N) in particulate organic matter (Pom), the organo-mineral fraction (Omin), and microbial biomass within the first 15 cm of soil. Aboveground plant biomass was reduced by 50% under drought in both years, but only the dominant C4 grasses were significantly affected. Soil C pools were not affected by drought, but were significantly higher in the relatively wet second year compared to the first year. Omin-C was positively related to microbial C during the first year, and positively related to clay and silt content in the second year. Increases in Omin-C in the second year were explained by increases in legume biomass and its effect on Pom-N and microbial biomass N (MBN) through structural equation modeling. In conclusion, soil C pools were unaffected by the drought treatment. Drought resistant legumes enhanced formation of organo-mineral complexes through increasing Pom-N and MBN. Our findings also indicate the importance of microbes for the formation of Omin-C as long as soil minerals have not reached their maximum capacity to bind with C (i.e., saturation).