Comparison of methods to quantify soil microbial biomass carbon

ABSTRACT. Soil microorganism biomass is an important soil quality indicator. The microbial biomass of soil was determined by killing and lysing the soil microbes by fumigation with chloroform, irradiation with gamma rays, or irradiation with microwaves. Four soils with increasing carbon concentrations (5, 10, 15, and 30 g kg-1) were analyzed using four methods: the direct application of chloroform, chloroform fumigation, microwave irradiation, and gamma ray irradiation with radiation doses of 15, 25, 35, 45, and 60 KGy. The fungi and bacteria in the soil were quantified by plate counting. Microwave irradiation and gamma irradiation with doses equal to or above 25 KGy killed all the soil microorganisms, but the chloroform methods did not. The carbon liberation increased with higher gamma doses, while the microbe mortality rates were the same, indicating that carbon was liberated from organic matter sources other than microorganisms. The biomasses determined by the microwave method correlated with those determined by the fumigation and 25 KGy gamma irradiation methods, but their values differed among all methods for at least one soil type. Despite this discrepancy, all methods were consistent in ranking microbial biomasses in increasing order of soil carbon concentrations, which corresponds with decreasing land use intensities.