03 Aug 2023
 | 03 Aug 2023

Optimal enzyme allocation leads to the constrained enzyme hypothesis: The Soil Enzyme Steady Allocation Model (SESAM v3.1)

Thomas Wutzler, Christian Reimers, Bernhard Ahrens, and Marion Schrumpf

Abstract. Describing the coupling of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and carbon (C) cycles of land ecosystems requires understanding microbial element use efficiencies of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition. These efficiencies are studied by the soil enzyme steady allocation model (SESAM) at decadal scale. The model assumes that the soil microbial communities and their element use efficiencies develop towards an optimum where the growth of the entire community is maximized. Specifically, SESAM approximated this growth optimization by allocating resources to several SOM degrading enzymes proportional to the revenue of these enzymes, called the Relative approach. However, a rigorous mathematical treatment of this approximation has been lacking so far.

Therefore, in this study we derive explicit formulas of enzyme allocation that maximize total return from enzymatic processing, called the Optimal approach. Further, we derive another heuristic approach that prescribes the change of allocation without the need of deriving a formulation for the optimal allocation, called the Derivative approach. When comparing predictions across these approaches, we found that the Relative approach was a special case of the Optimal approach valid at sufficiently high microbial biomass. However, at low microbial biomass, it overestimated allocation to the enzymes having lower revenues compared to the Optimal approach. The Derivative-based allocation closely tracked the Optimal allocation.

The model finding that the Relative approach was a special case of the more rigorous Optimal approach together with observing the same patterns across optimization approaches increases our confidence into conclusions drawn from SESAM studies. Moreover, the new developments extend the range of conditions at which valid conclusions can be drawn. The new model finding that a smaller set of enzyme types was expressed at low microbial biomass led us to formulate the constrained enzyme hypothesis, which provides a complementary explanation why some substrates in soil are preserved over decades although often being decomposed within a few years in incubation experiments. This study shows how optimality considerations lead to simplified models, new insights and new hypotheses. It is another step in deriving a simple representation of an adaptive microbial community, which is required for coupled stoichiometric CNP dynamic models that are aimed to study decadal processes beyond ecosystem scale.

Thomas Wutzler et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1492', Stefano Manzoni, 25 Aug 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-1492', Sergey Blagodatsky, 25 Sep 2023

Thomas Wutzler et al.

Thomas Wutzler et al.


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Short summary
Soil microbes provide a strong link for elemental fluxes in the earth system. The SESAM model applies an optimality assumption to model those linkages and their adaptation. We found that a previous heuristic description was a special case of a newly developed more rigorous description. The finding of new behavior at low microbial biomass led us formulate the constrained enzyme hypothesis. We now can better describe how microbial mediated linkages of elemental fluxes adapt across decades.