• Half of the biological activity in forest soils is supported by recent tree photosynthate, but no study has traced in detail this flux of carbon from the canopy to soil microorganisms in the field.
• Using 13CO2, we pulse-labelled over 1.5 h a 50-m2 patch of 4-m-tall boreal Pinus sylvestris forest in a 200-m3 chamber.
• Tracer levels peaked after 24 h in soluble carbohydrates in the phloem at a height of 0.3 m, after 2–4 d in soil respiratory efflux, after 4–7 d in ectomycorrhizal roots, and after 2–4 d in soil microbial cytoplasm. Carbon in the active pool in needles, in soluble carbohydrates in phloem and in soil respiratory efflux had half-lives of 22, 17 and 35 h, respectively. Carbon in soil microbial cytoplasm had a half-life of 280 h, while the carbon in ectomycorrhizal root tips turned over much more slowly. Simultaneous labelling of the soil with showed that the ectomycorrhizal roots, which were the strongest sinks for photosynthate, were also the most active sinks for soil nitrogen.
• These observations highlight the close temporal coupling between tree canopy photosynthesis and a significant fraction of soil activity in forests.
2008. Vol. 177, no 1, 220-28 p.