Vulnerability of soil organic matter to temperature changes: Exploring constraints due to substrate decomposability and microbial community structure.
National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, Award #0444880
Co-Principal Investigator (PI: Rich Conant, Colorado State University)
Recent research suggests that even modest temperature increases could cause large releases of CO2 from soils. A one-degree temperature increase could prompt soil carbon losses (as CO2) equivalent to five times the annual CO2 release from all fossil fuel burning. However, such forecasts are based on results from short-term studies that implicitly assume all of the carbon in the soil is uniformly temperature-sensitive. The bulk of applicable research suggests that older, more resistant carbon fractions may be less temperature-sensitive than younger, less resistant carbon fractions. This project will evaluate the extent to which the physical, chemical, and biochemical mechanisms that protect soil carbon from decomposition act to reduce the temperature sensitivity of soil carbon. An important corollary is that soil carbon stocks are less vulnerable to changes in temperature than previously supposed. As a part of this project, we will evaluate temperature sensitivities of soil carbon fractions in soils that differ with regard to their relative abundances of labile versus relatively stable carbon. Results from this work will reduce uncertainty about the vulnerability of soil carbon stocks to changes in temperature, thus improving information available to aid decision makers. This research will also advance our understanding of basic ecosystem dynamics, present a number of unique opportunities for undergraduate and graduate training, and build international collaboration.