Soil carbon storage controlled by interactions between geochemistry and climate


Soils are an important site of carbon storage1. Climate is generally regarded as one of the primary controls over soil organic carbon1,2, but there is still uncertainty about the direction and magnitude of carbon responses to climate change. Here we show that geochemistry, too, is an important controlling factor for soil carbon storage. We measured a range of soil and climate variables at 24 sites along a 4,000-km-long north–south transect of natural grassland and shrubland in Chile and the Antarctic Peninsula, which spans a broad range of climatic and geochemical conditions. We find that soils with high carbon content are characterized by substantial adsorption of carbon compounds onto mineral soil and low rates of respiration per unit of soil carbon; and vice versa for soils with low carbon content. Precipitation and temperature were only secondary predictors for carbon storage, respiration, residence time and stabilization mechanisms. Correlations between climatic variables and carbon variables decreased significantly after removing relationships with geochemical predictors. We conclude that the interactions of climatic and geochemical factors control soil organic carbon storage and turnover, and must be considered for robust prediction of current and future soil carbon storage.

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Figure 1: SOC response variables in geographical context.
Figure 2: Partial correlations between SOC response and climatic variables.


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This research was financed within the framework of the BELSPO IUAP project No. P7-P24 ‘SOGLO- Soils under Global change’ (Belgium). Further funding was provided in Chile by FONDECYT 1121138 and 1120895 and Instituto Antártico Chileno, INACH FR0112 for sampling campaigns in Chile and the Antarctic Peninsula. K.V.O. is a Research Associate of the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS), Belgium.

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S.D., P.B. and E.Z.V. designed the research. E.Z.V., M.C.P., A.C.-K. and C.M. conducted sampling campaigns. S.D., A.S. and M.B. collected and analysed the data. S.D., P.B. and J.S. interpreted the data. All authors contributed to the writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Sebastian Doetterl.

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Doetterl, S., Stevens, A., Six, J. et al. Soil carbon storage controlled by interactions between geochemistry and climate. Nature Geosci 8, 780–783 (2015).

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