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Evidence for large microbial-mediated losses of soil carbon under anthropogenic warming

An Author Correction to this article was published on 29 June 2021

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Abstract

Anthropogenic warming is expected to accelerate global soil organic carbon (SOC) losses via microbial decomposition, yet, there is still no consensus on the loss magnitude. In this Perspective, we argue that, despite the mechanistic uncertainty underlying these losses, there is confidence that a strong, positive land carbon–climate feedback can be expected. Two major lines of evidence support net global SOC losses with warming via increases in soil microbial metabolic activity: the increase in soil respiration with temperature and the accumulation of SOC in low mean annual temperature regions. Warming-induced SOC losses are likely to be of a magnitude relevant for emission negotiations and necessitate more aggressive emission reduction targets to limit climate change to 1.5 °C by 2100. We suggest that microbial community–temperature interactions, and how they are influenced by substrate availability, are promising research areas to improve the accuracy and precision of the magnitude estimates of projected SOC losses.

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Fig. 1: Microbial control of soil organic carbon losses to the atmosphere with anthropogenic warming.
Fig. 2: SOC stocks are negatively correlated with temperature at the global scale.
Fig. 3: Exploring the microbial–temperature relationship to improve estimates of SOC losses.
Fig. 4: Changes in the interactions between microbes and substrate availability under warming.

Change history

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Acknowledgements

We thank the reviewers for their careful reading of our manuscript and their insightful comments and suggestions. This article was conceived as a result of the Thematic Session on ‘Microbial Feedbacks to Climate Change’ presented at the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2018 held in Birmingham (UK). P.G.-P. is supported by a Ramón y Cajal grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (RYC2018-024766-I).

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P.G.-P. and M.A.B. conceived the idea for the paper. T.W.C., J.R., J.v.d.H. and J.-S.Y. conducted the analyses. The paper was drafted by P.G.-P., T.W.C., M.D., I.P.H., S.R., R.R., J.R. and M.A.B., and all authors contributed to the final version.

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Correspondence to Pablo García-Palacios.

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Nature Reviews Earth & Environment thanks Ben Bond-Lamberty, who co-reviewed with Jinshi Jian; Jizhong Zhou and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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The CHELSA database: https://chelsa-climate.org/

The SoilGrids database: https://soilgrids.org/

The SRDB: https://github.com/bpbond/srdb

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García-Palacios, P., Crowther, T.W., Dacal, M. et al. Evidence for large microbial-mediated losses of soil carbon under anthropogenic warming. Nat Rev Earth Environ 2, 507–517 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-021-00178-4

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