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Similar response of labile and resistant soil organic matter pools to changes in temperature

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 11 August 2005


Our understanding of the relationship between the decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) and soil temperature affects our predictions of the impact of climate change on soil-stored carbon1. One current opinion is that the decomposition of soil labile carbon is sensitive to temperature variation whereas resistant components are insensitive2,3,4. The resistant carbon or organic matter in mineral soil is then assumed to be unresponsive to global warming2,4. But the global pattern and magnitude of the predicted future soil carbon stock will mainly rely on the temperature sensitivity of these resistant carbon pools. To investigate this sensitivity, we have incubated soils under changing temperature. Here we report that SOM decomposition or soil basal respiration rate was significantly affected by changes in SOM components associated with soil depth, sampling method and incubation time. We find, however, that the temperature sensitivity for SOM decomposition was not affected, suggesting that the temperature sensitivity for resistant organic matter pools does not differ significantly from that of labile pools, and that both types of SOM will therefore respond similarly to global warming.

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Figure 1: Soil carbon components, respiration rate and associated Q10 values with respect to soil depth and sampling method (four replicates for each sample).
Figure 2: Variations in respiration rate and soil carbon pools with increasing incubation time.
Figure 3: Changes in soil C by 2100 for European soils.


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We thank M. Wattenbarch and C. Zhang for assistance with the modelling. The pan-European modelling used data sets arising from the EU-funded ATEAM project.

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Correspondence to Changming Fang.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

This file explains how the measured soil respiration data were edited, the methods we used to estimate Q10 values from respiration rates at different temperatures, and how we assessed the contribution of resistant carbon pool to the total soil organic carbon decomposition and the Q10 value. (DOC 53 kb)

Supplementary Figures S1–3

Supplementary Figure S1 shows the impact of temperature and incubation time on soil basal respiration rate of root-free samples. Supplementary Figure S2 shows contribution of resistant and labile components to soil basal respiration and the relative importance of resistant carbon decompostition with incubation time. Supplementary Figure S3 shows impacts of changing Q10 value for resistant carbon (humus) decomposition on the temperature dependence of soil basal respiration. The figures show the variation in soil respiration rate with time and temperature, contributions of resistant carbon pool to the total respiration rate and the Q10 value. Figures support that the resistant carbon pool is equally sensitive to temperature change to labile pools. (DOC 139 kb)

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Fang, C., Smith, P., Moncrieff, J. et al. Similar response of labile and resistant soil organic matter pools to changes in temperature. Nature 433, 57–59 (2005).

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