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Vol. 5, 2015; Pages: 56-60

Weaker soil carbon–climate feedbacks resulting from microbial and abiotic interactions

Jinyun Tang & William J. Riley

Earth Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBL), Berkeley, California 94720, USA


The large uncertainty in soil carbon–climate feedback predictions has been attributed to the incorrect parameterization of decomposition temperature sensitivity (Q10) and microbial carbon use efficiency. Empirical experiments have found that these parameters vary spatiotemporally, but such variability is not included in current ecosystem models. Here we use a thermodynamically based decomposition model to test the hypothesis that this observed variability arises from interactions between temperature, microbial biogeochemistry, and mineral surface sorptive reactions. We show that because mineral surfaces interact with substrates, enzymes and microbes, both Q10 and microbial carbon use efficiency are hysteretic (so that neither can be represented by a single static function) and the conventional labile and recalcitrant substrate characterization with static temperature sensitivity is flawed. In a 4-K temperature perturbation experiment, our fully dynamic model predicted more variable but weaker soil carbon–climate feedbacks than did the static Q10 and static carbon use efficiency model when forced with yearly, daily and hourly variable temperatures. These results imply that current Earth system models probably overestimate the response of soil carbon stocks to global warming. Future ecosystem models should therefore consider the dynamic interactions between sorptive mineral surfaces, substrates and microbial processes..

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