Temperature sensitivity of soil organic carbon decomposition increased with mean carbon residence time: Field incubation and data assimilation

Published by Ecoss on

Temperature sensitivity of soil organic carbon (SOC) decomposition is one of the major uncertainties in predicting climate‐carbon (C) cycle feedback. Results from previous studies are highly contradictory with old soil C decomposition being more, similarly, or less sensitive to temperature than decomposition of young fractions. The contradictory results are partly from difficulties in distinguishing old from young SOC and their changes over time in the experiments with or without isotopic techniques. In this study, we have conducted a long‐term field incubation experiment with deep soil collars (0–70 cm in depth, 10 cm in diameter of PVC tubes) for excluding root C input to examine apparent temperature sensitivity of SOC decomposition under ambient and warming treatments from 2002 to 2008. The data from the experiment were infused into a multi‐pool soil C model to estimate intrinsic temperature sensitivity of SOC decomposition and C residence times of three SOC fractions (i.e., active, slow, and passive) using a data assimilation (DA) technique. As active SOC with the short C residence time was progressively depleted in the deep soil collars under both ambient and warming treatments, the residences times of the whole SOC became longer over time. Concomitantly, the estimated apparent and intrinsic temperature sensitivity of SOC decomposition also became gradually higher over time as more than 50% of active SOC was depleted. Thus, the temperature sensitivity of soil C decomposition in deep soil collars was positively correlated with the mean C residence times. However, the regression slope of the temperature sensitivity against the residence time was lower under the warming treatment than under ambient temperature, indicating that other processes also regulated temperature sensitivity of SOC decomposition. These results indicate that old SOC decomposition is more sensitive to temperature than young components, making the old C more vulnerable to future warmer climate.