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Temporal patterns of soil carbon emission in tropical forests under long-term nitrogen deposition

Abstract

Soil represents the largest terrestrial carbon pool, and it liberates massive amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere via respiration, which can influence global carbon cycle. In recent decades, anthropogenic activities have dramatically increased the rates of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition worldwide, but our current understanding of soil respiration dynamics in anthropogenic N-deposition environments remains poor. Here we monitored soil CO2 emission rates monthly following 9–13 years of N-addition treatments in three tropical forests in southern China. We found a three-phase pattern of soil CO2 emission (insignificant changes–dramatic decline–insignificant changes) in three tropical forests and across three N-addition gradients. During the course of the experiments, N addition reduced a total cumulative amount of 6.53–9.06 MgCO2 ha–1 with the efficiency of 5.80–13.13 MgCO2 Mg N–1. The mechanisms underlying the temporal patterns of soil respiration were related to the lack of plant and microbial responses (phase 1), the reduction in fine root and microbial biomass due to soil acidification (phase 2) and the reorganization of plant and microbial community (phase 3). These findings advance our understanding of soil respiration dynamics and support prediction of long-term soil C fluxes in tropical forests in the context of N deposition.

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Fig. 1: Effects of long-term N addition on annual soil respiration rates in the primary, secondary and planted forests.
Fig. 2: Temporal trends of soil respiration in the control and N-addition plots in the primary, secondary and planted forests based on the moving subset window analysis.
Fig. 3: Temporal trends of changes of soil respiration after N addition in the primary, secondary and planted forests based on the moving subset window analysis.
Fig. 4: Effects of long-term N addition on annual and total cumulative amounts of soil CO2 emission in the primary, secondary and planted forests.
Fig. 5: Efficiency of soil CO2 emission reduced by N addition in phases 1–3.
Fig. 6: Conceptual framework of soil respiration response to long-term N addition in phases 1–3.

Data availability

The data supporting the findings of this study are available from Figshare Digital Repository: https://figshare.com/articles/dataset/Dataset_Mianhai_Zheng_et_al_NG_2022/21291888.

Code availability

No custom code was used in this study.

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Acknowledgements

This study was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41731176, 42077311, 31901164, 42173077), Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2021346), Young Elite Scientists Sponsorship Program by ESC (STQT2020A02) and Guangdong Basic and Applied Basic Research Foundation (2019A1515011821).

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Authors

Contributions

M.Z., J.M. and W.Z. conceived the original idea. M.Z., T.Z., X.L. S.W. and W.Z. performed the experiment. M.Z. collected soil, plant and microbial data and ran the statistical analyses. M.Z. wrote the first draft. M.Z., Y.L., J.L., Q.Y., J.H., Q.M., J.M. and W.Z. discussed and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jiangming Mo or Wei Zhang.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature Geoscience thanks Jens-Arne Subke and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Xujia Jiang, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Global meta-analysis of the N-addition effects on soil CO2 flux in 62 forest sites.

Distribution of the number of observation in different experimental periods (a). Distribution of the number of observation in different measurement time point after N treatment (b). Response ratios of soil CO2 flux to N addition in different years after N-addition treatment (c). Response ratios of soil CO2 flux to N addition in different types of forests and the total response ratios (d). Solid circles and error bars represent weighted mean response ratios and 95% confidence intervals, respectively. The numbers under the solid circles in (c, d) represent sample sizes (n values). Data were collected from the literatures published from 1995 to 2021.

Extended Data Fig. 2

Statistical significance of repeated-measures analysis of variance for soil respiration measured in different years with the factors of forest type and N-addition treatment.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Mean annual soil temperature in the control and N-addition plots of the primary forest (a-b), secondary forest (c-d), and planted forest (e-f).

Columns and error bars represent means and standard errors (n = 3), respectively. The asterisks indicate the years in which statistical significance (P < 0.05; one-way analysis of variance followed by Tukey’s HSD test for Exp1 and independent-sample t-test for Exp2) is detected between the control and N-addition plots. C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Mean annual soil moisture in the control and N-addition plots of the primary forest (a-b), secondary forest (c-d), and planted forest (e-f).

Columns and error bars represent means and standard errors (n = 3), respectively. The asterisks indicate the years in which statistical significance (P < 0.05; one-way analysis of variance followed by Tukey’s HSD test for Exp1 and independent-sample t-test for Exp2) is detected between the control and N-addition plots. C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

Extended Data Fig. 5 The relationships between soil temperature and time in the primary, secondary, and planted forests.

Linear regression models of soil temperature (in the control, low N-addition, and medium N-addition plots) against time from January 2011 to December 2019 (a, c, e). Linear regression models of soil temperature (in the control and high N-addition plots) against time from February 2007 to December 2019 (b, d, f). C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

Extended Data Fig. 6 The relationships between soil moisture and time in the primary, secondary, and planted forests.

Linear regression models of soil moisture (in the control, low N-addition, and medium N-addition plots) against time from January 2011 to December 2019 (a, c, e). Linear regression models of soil moisture (in the control and high N-addition plots) against time from February 2007 to December 2019 (b, d, f). C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Three-dimensional surface models of the relationships among soil respiration, soil temperature, and soil moisture in the three forests.

Polynomial regression models of soil respiration against soil temperature and moisture (in combination of the control, low N-addition, and medium N-addition plots; Exp 1) from 2011 to 2019 (a, c, e). Polynomial regression models of soil respiration against soil temperature and moisture (in combination of the control and high N-addition plots: Exp 2) from 2007 to 2019 (b, d, f). C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

Extended Data Fig. 8 The parameters and statistics of soil respiration to soil temperature (exponential regression models) and moisture (logarithmic regression models) in the control and N-addition plots in the studied forests.

Experiment 1 (Exp 1): N treatments started from 2003, and soil respiration, temperature, and moisture were monitored from 2011 to 2019. Experiment 2 (Exp 2): N treatments started from 2007, and soil respiration, temperature, and moisture were monitored from 2007 to 2019. Rs: soil respiration; T: soil temperature; M: soil moisture.

Extended Data Fig. 9 Exponential regression models of soil respiration against soil temperature in the primary, secondary, and planted forests.

Exponential regression models of soil CO2 flux against soil temperature in the control, low N-addition, and medium N-addition plots in 2011 − 2019 (a, c, e). Exponential regression models of soil CO2 flux against soil temperature in the control and high N-addition plots in 2007 − 2019 (b, d, f). C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

Extended Data Fig. 10 Logarithmic regression models of soil respiration against soil moisture in the primary, secondary, and planted forests.

Logarithmic regression models of soil CO2 flux against soil moisture in the control, low N-addition, and medium N-addition plots in 2011 − 2019 (a, c, e). Logarithmic regression models of soil CO2 flux against soil moisture in the control and high N-addition plots in 2007 − 2019 (b, d, f). C: control; L: low N addition; M: medium N addition; H: high N addition.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–4, Tables 1 and 2 and references.

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Zheng, M., Zhang, T., Luo, Y. et al. Temporal patterns of soil carbon emission in tropical forests under long-term nitrogen deposition. Nat. Geosci. 15, 1002–1010 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-01080-4

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