Fueling Diversity in the Subsurface: Composition and Age of Dissolved Organic Matter in the Critical Zone
Frontiers in Earth Science
Surface ecosystems are rapidly changing on a global scale and it is important to understand how this influences aquifers in the subsurface, as groundwater quality is a major concern for future generations. Dissolved organic matter (DOM) contains molecular and isotopic signals from surface-derived inputs as well as from the biotic and abiotic subsurface environment and is therefore ideal to study the connectivity between both environments. We evaluated a 3-year time series of DOM composition
... DOM composition using ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry and age using 14 C accelerator mass spectrometry along a hillslope well transect in the fractured bedrock of the Hainich Critical Zone Exploratory, Germany. We found a wide range of DOM 14 C depletion, from 14 C = −47.9 to 14 C = −782.4, within different zones of the shallow groundwater. The 14 C content of DOM mirrored the connectivity of the aquifers to the surface. The composition of DOM was highly interrelated with its 14 C age. The proportions of surface-derived DOM components decreased with DOM age, whereas microorganismderived DOM components increased. The intensity of surface-sourced DOM signals differed between the wells and likely reflected the hydrological complexity of fracturedrock environments. During recharge, DOM was more enriched in 14 C, contained more surface-derived molecular components and was more diverse. As a potential response to the varying DOM substrate, bacterial 16S rRNA gene analysis revealed community evolution and increased bacterial diversity during recharge. The influx of diverse, surface-derived DOM potentially fueled evolution within the autochthonous bacterial communities, as in contrast to DOM, the bacterial community did not retreat to the initial diversity and community composition during the recession period. Our results demonstrate on the one hand that combined analyses of the composition and age of groundwater DOM strongly contribute to the understanding of interconnections, community evolution and the functioning of subsurface ecosystems and on the other hand that changes in surface ecosystems have an imprint on subsurface ecosystems.