Warming increases soil respiration in a carbon-rich soil without changing microbial respiratory potential
Nyberg, M and Hovenden, MJ, Warming increases soil respiration in a carbon-rich soil without changing microbial respiratory potential, Biogeosciences, 17, (17) pp. 4405-4420. ISSN 1726-4170 (2020) [Refereed Article]
Increases in global temperatures due to climate change threaten to tip the balance between carbon (C) fluxes, liberating large amounts of C from soils. Evidence of warming-induced increases in CO2 efflux from soils has led to suggestions that this response of soil respiration (RS) will trigger a positive land C–climate feedback cycle, ultimately warming the Earth further. Currently, there is little consensus about the mechanisms driving the warming-induced RS response, and there are relatively few studies from ecosystems with large soil C stores. Here, we investigate the impacts of experimental warming on RS in the C-rich soils of a Tasmanian grassy sedgeland and whether alterations of plant community composition or differences in microbial respiratory potential could contribute to any effects. In situ, warming increased RS on average by 28 %, and this effect was consistent over time and across plant community composition treatments. In contrast, warming had no impact on microbial respiration in incubation experiments. Plant community composition manipulations did not influence RS or the RS response to warming. Processes driving the RS response in this experiment were, therefore, not due to plant community effects and are more likely due to increases in below-ground autotrophic respiration and the supply of labile substrate through rhizodeposition and root exudates. CO2 efflux from this high-C soil increased by more than a quarter in response to warming, suggesting inputs need to increase by at least this amount if soil C stocks are to be maintained. These results indicate the need for comprehensive investigations of both C inputs and losses from C-rich soils if efforts to model net ecosystem C exchange of these crucial, C-dense systems are to be successful.
soil respiration, carbon emissions, soil carbon, global warming, field experiment