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Accelerated soil carbon loss does not explain warming related increases in soil CO2 efflux

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Title:Accelerated soil carbon loss does not explain warming related increases in soil CO2 efflux
Authors:Giardina, Christian P.
Litton, Creighton M.
Crow, Susan E.
Asner, Gregory P.
Date Issued:Jul 2014
Publisher:Nature Climate Change
Abstract:The universally observed exponential increase in soil-surface CO2 efflux (‘soil respiration’;
FS) with increasing temperature has led to speculation that global warming will accelerate
soil organic carbon (SOC) decomposition1, reduce SOC storage, and drive a positive
feedback to future warming2. However, interpreting temperature – FS relationships, and so
modeling terrestrial carbon balance in a warmer world, is complicated by the many
sources of respired carbon that contribute to FS (ref. 3) and a poor understanding of how
temperature influences SOC decomposition rates4. Here we quantified FS, litterfall, bulk
SOC and SOC fraction size and turnover, and total belowground carbon flux (TBCF)
across a highly constrained 5.2°C mean annual temperature (MAT) gradient in tropical
montane wet forest5. From these, we determined that: (i) increases in TBCF and litterfall
explain >90% of the increase in FS with MAT; (ii) bulk SOC and SOC fraction size and
turnover rate do not vary with MAT; and (iii) increases in TBCF and litterfall do not
influence SOC storage or turnover on century to millennial time scales. This gradient study
shows that for tropical montane wet forest, long-term and whole-ecosystem warming
accelerates belowground carbon processes with no apparent impact on SOC storage.
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