The fate of terrestrially-derived dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is important to carbon (C) cycling in both terrestrial and aquatic environments, and recent evidence suggests that climate warming is influencing DOC dynamics in northern ecosystems. To understand what determines the fate of terrestrial DOC, it is essential to quantify the chemical nature and potential biodegradability of this DOC. We examined DOC chemical characteristics and biodegradability collected from soil pore waters and dominant vegetation species in four boreal black spruce forest sites in Alaska spanning a range of hydrologic regimes and permafrost extents (Well Drained, Moderately Well Drained, Poorly Drained, and Thermokarst Wetlands). DOC chemistry was characterized using fractionation, UV–Vis absorbance, and fluorescence measurements. Potential biodegradability was assessed by incubating the samples and measuring CO2 production over 1 month. Soil pore water DOC from all sites was dominated by hydrophobic acids and was highly aromatic, whereas the chemical composition of vegetation leachate DOC varied significantly with species. There was no seasonal variability in soil pore water DOC chemical characteristics or biodegradability; however, DOC collected from the Poorly Drained site was significantly less biodegradable than DOC from the other three sites (6% loss vs. 13–15% loss). The biodegradability of vegetation-derived DOC ranged from 10 to 90% loss, and was strongly correlated with hydrophilic DOC content. Vegetation such as Sphagnum moss and feathermosses yielded DOC that was quickly metabolized and respired. In contrast, the DOC leached from vegetation such as black spruce was moderately recalcitrant. Changes in DOC chemical characteristics that occurred during microbial metabolism of DOC were quantified using fractionation and fluorescence. The chemical characteristics and biodegradability of DOC in soil pore waters were most similar to the moderately recalcitrant vegetation leachates, and to the microbially altered DOC from all vegetation leachates.
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