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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Vol. 95, 2016, Pages: 144–155

Peat origin and land use effects on microbial activity, respiration dynamics and exo-enzyme activities in drained peat soils in the Netherlands

Karlijn Brouns, Joost A. Keuskamp, Gerrit Potkamp, Jos T.A. Verhoeven, Mariet M. Hefting

Ecology and Biodiversity, Department of Biology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


This study assessed the risk of decomposition-driven soil subsidence in drained peat soils in the Netherlands, contrasting in peat origin and current land use. In a full factorial design, fen peat and bog peat were sampled from sites in use for nature conservation and for dairy farming, which contrast in history of drainage and fertilisation. In these four peat types, which frequently occur in the Netherlands, the microbial activity and respiration dynamics were studied in samples from superficial oxic peat layers by measuring Substrate Induced Respiration (SIR) and Substrate Induced Growth Response (SIGR). Total and active microbial biomass, microbial growth potential and potential exo-enzyme activities were determined in unamended samples and after nitrogen and/or glucose amendments.

Remarkably, peat origin and land use did not affect basal respiration rates. In contrast, land use affected microbial biomass and potential growth rates as they were quadrupled in dairy meadows compared to nature reserves. This may be attributable to the pulses of organic and inorganic fertiliser that are being supplied in agricultural peatlands. Potential activities of oxidative exo-enzymes (phenol oxidase, POX, and phenol peroxidase, POD), in contrast, depended more on peat type, indicating a difference in peat substrate quality. Basal respiration rates and enzyme activities were not related. Phosphorus enrichment was identified as a potential driver of increased peat decomposition. The activity of the oxidative enzyme phenol oxidase and the concentration of phenolic compounds, which are considered to be the main regulators of peat decomposition according to the enzymic latch theory, were not related to respiration rates. It was concluded that decomposition theories like the enzymic latch theory (attributing a main role in the regulation of decomposition to phenolic compounds and phenol oxidase) were not supported by our research in the drained peat soils in the Netherlands.

Keywords: Peat; SIR; Microbial activity; Decomposition; Nutrient limitation; Energy limitation.

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