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Microbial mediation of carbon-cycle feedbacks to climate warming


Understanding the mechanisms of biospheric feedbacks to climate change is critical to project future climate warming1,2,3. Although microorganisms catalyse most biosphere processes related to fluxes of greenhouse gases, little is known about the microbial role in regulating future climate change4. Integrated metagenomic and functional analyses of a long-term warming experiment in a grassland ecosystem showed that microorganisms play crucial roles in regulating soil carbon dynamics through three primary feedback mechanisms: shifting microbial community composition, which most likely led to the reduced temperature sensitivity of heterotrophic soil respiration; differentially stimulating genes for degrading labile but not recalcitrant carbon so as to maintain long-term soil carbon stability and storage; and enhancing nutrient-cycling processes to promote plant nutrient-use efficiency and hence plant growth. Elucidating microbially mediated feedbacks is fundamental to understanding ecosystem responses to climate warming and provides a mechanistic basis for carbon–climate modelling.

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Figure 1: Effects of warming on a series of plant and soil variables.
Figure 2: Impacts of warming on N cycling.
Figure 3: The normalized average signal intensity of detected C-degradation genes under warming and the control.

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This work is supported by the US Department of Energy, Biological Systems Research on the Role of Microbial Communities in Carbon Cycling Program (DE-SC0004601), and Oklahoma Bioenergy Center (OBC). The GeoChips and associated computational pipelines used in this study were supported by ENIGMA—Ecosystems and Networks Integrated with Genes and Molecular Assemblies through the Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 and by the US Department of Agriculture (Project 2007-35319-18305) through the NSF-USDA Microbial Observatories Program.

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All authors contributed intellectual input and assistance to this study and manuscript preparation. The original concept and experimental strategy were developed by J.Z. and L.W. Sampling collections, DNA preparation, GeoChip and pyrosequencing analysis were carried out by Y.D., J.X. and L.W. K.X. carried out soil chemical analysis and various statistical analyses with Y.D., and S.F. carried out modelling analysis. S.D. carried out soil enzyme analysis. Z.H., Y.D. and J.D.V.N. assisted with GeoChip and sequencing analysis. J.Z. and Y.L. guided all data analysis and integration. J.Z. and K.X. wrote the paper with help from Y.L. and Z.H.

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Correspondence to Jizhong Zhou.

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Zhou, J., Xue, K., Xie, J. et al. Microbial mediation of carbon-cycle feedbacks to climate warming. Nature Clim Change 2, 106–110 (2012).

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