AIMS Geosciences, 2019, 5(4): 886-898. doi: 10.3934/geosci.2019.4.886.


Export file:


  • RIS(for EndNote,Reference Manager,ProCite)
  • BibTex
  • Text


  • Citation Only
  • Citation and Abstract

Experimental test of temperature and moisture controls on the rate of microbial decomposition of soil organic matter: preliminary results

1 Department of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA
2 Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, NY, USA

Soil organic matter (SOM) is a major reservoir of carbon derived from the biosphere that is returned to the atmosphere largely via microbial decomposition. The potential for feedbacks between climate change and SOM decomposition makes a full understanding of the controls on SOM decomposition rates essential to modeling future climate changes. We measured soil CO2 flux in a laboratory setting using pots containing a uniform mix of soil in which we varied both temperature and moisture. Following initial desiccation, a strong CO2 pulse was measured within two hours of rewetting and a return to equilibrium conditions obtained within 168 hours, with the magnitude of the initial pulse varying by soil temperature and moisture addition. At equilibrium conditions, no correlation was found between CO2 flux and temperature across all moisture levels, although a weak positive correlation (r2=0.1 to 0.2) was seen at moderate to high moisture levels. A much stronger correlation (r2 > 0.4) was found between CO2 flux and soil moisture across the full range of temperatures and at both low and high temperatures. Thus, we conclude that when all other variables were constrained, soil moisture fluctuations appeared to have greater impact than temperature variations on the rate of microbial decomposition of SOM. These preliminary results suggest directions for future research examining the relationships between soil moisture, temperature and CO2 flux for soils in which clay mineral and/or SOM composition are varied.
  Article Metrics

Keywords soil CO2 flux; soil organic matter; soil respiration; microbial heterotrophs

Citation: Corey A. Palmer, Katherine P. Markstein, Lawrence H. Tanner. Experimental test of temperature and moisture controls on the rate of microbial decomposition of soil organic matter: preliminary results. AIMS Geosciences, 2019, 5(4): 886-898. doi: 10.3934/geosci.2019.4.886


  • 1. Jobbágy EG, Jackson RB (2000) The vertical distribution of soil organic carbon and its relation to climate and vegetation. Ecol Appl 10: 423-436.    
  • 2. Rustad LE, Hungtington TG, Boone RD (2000) Controls on soil respiration: implications for climate change. Biogeochem 48: 1-6.    
  • 3. Balesdent J, Basile-Doelsch I, Chadoeuf J, et al. (2018) Atmosphere-soil carbon transfer as a function of soil depth. Nature 559: 599-602.    
  • 4. Malik AA, Puissant J, Buckeridge KM, et al. (2018) Land use driven change in soil pH affects microbial carbon cycling processes. Nat Commun 9: 3591.    
  • 5. Trumbore SE, Chadwick OA, Amundson R (1996) Rapid exchange between soil carbon and atmospheric carbon dioxide driven by temperature change. Science 272: 393-396.    
  • 6. Cao MK, Woodward FI (1998) Dynamic responses of terrestrial ecosystem carbon cycling to global climate change. Nature 393: 249-252.    
  • 7. Knorr W, Prentice IC, House JI, et al. (2005) Long-term sensitivity of soil carbon turnover to warming. Nature 433: 298-301.    
  • 8. Davidson EA, Janssens IA (2006) Temperature sensitivity of soil carbon decomposition and feedbacks to climate change. Nature 440: 165-173.    
  • 9. Crowther TW, Todd-Brown KEO, Rowe CW, et al. (2016) Quantifying global soil carbon losses in response to warming. Nature 540: 104-108.    
  • 10. Teramoto M, Liang N, Takagi M, et al. (2016) Sustained acceleration of soil carbon decomposition observed in a 6-year warming experiment in a warm-temperate forest in southern Japan. Sci Rep 6: 35563.    
  • 11. Hicks Pries CE, Castanha C, Porras RC, et al. (2017) The whole-soil carbon flux in response to warming. Science 355: 1420-1423.    
  • 12. Melillo JM, Frey SD, DeAngelis KM, et al. (2017) Long-term pattern and magnitude of soil carbon feedback to the climate system in a warming world. Science 358: 101-105.    
  • 13. Nottingham AT, Whitaker J, Ostle NJ, et al. (2019) Microbial responses to warming enhance soil carbon loss following translocation across a tropical forest elevation gradient. Ecol Lett.
  • 14. Conant RT, Ryan MJ, Ågren GI, et al. (2011) Temperature and soil organic matter decomposition rates-synthesis of current knowledge and a way forward. Glob Change Biol 17: 3392-3404.    
  • 15. Cox PM, Betts RA, Jones CD, et al. (2000) Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks in a coupled climate model. Nature 408: 184-187.    
  • 16. Hanson PJ, Edwards NT, Garten CT, et al. (2000) Separating root and soil microbial contributions to soil respiration: a review of methods and observations. Biogeochem 48: 115-146.    
  • 17. O'Connell CS, Ruan L, Silver WL (2018) Drought drives rapid shifts in tropical rainforest soil biogeochemistry and greenhouse gas emissions. Nat Comm 9: 1348.    
  • 18. Subke JA, Bahn M (2010) On the 'temperature sensitivity' of soil respiration: can we use the immeasurable to predict the unknown? Soil Biol Biochem 42: 1653-1656.    
  • 19. Shi Z, Crowell S, Luo Y, et al. (2018) Model structures amplify uncertainty in predicted soil carbon responses to climate change. Nat Comm 9: 2171.    
  • 20. Potts M (1994) Desiccation tolerance for prokaryotes. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 58: 755-805.
  • 21. Doetterl S, Stevens A, Six J, et al. (2015) Soil carbon storage controlled by interactions between geochemistry and climate. Nat Geosci 8: 780-783.    
  • 22. Doetterl S, Behre AA, Arnold C, et al. (2018) Links among warming, carbon and microbial dynamics mediated by soil mineral weathering. Nat Geosci 11: 589-593.    
  • 23. Kuzyakov Y (2010) Priming effects: interactions between living and dead organic matter. Soil Biol Biochem 42: 1363-1371.    
  • 24. Kuzyakov Y, Friedel JK, Stahr K (2000) Review of mechanisms and quantification of priming effects. Soil Biol Biochem 32: 1485-1498.    
  • 25. Liang J, Zhou Z, Huo C, et al. (2018) More replenishment than priming loss of soil organic carbon with additional carbon input. Nat Comm 9: 3175.    
  • 26. Birch HF (1958) The effect of soil drying on humus decomposition and nitrogen. Plant Soil 10: 9-31.    
  • 27. Schimel J, Balser TC, Wallenstein M (2007) Microbial stress-response physiology and its implications for ecosystem function. Ecology 88: 1386-1394.    
  • 28. Wang L, Manzoni S, Ravi S, et al. (2015) Dynamic interactions of ecohydrological and biogeochemical processes in water-limited systems. Ecosphere 6: 133.    
  • 29. Waring BG, Powers JS (2016) Unraveling the mechanisms underlying pulse dynamics of soil respiration in tropical dry forests. Environ Res Lett 11: 105005.    
  • 30. Placella SA, Brodie EL, Firestone MK (2012) Rainfall-induced carbon dioxide pulses result from sequential resuscitation of phylogenetically clustered microbial groups. Proc Nat Acad Sci 109: 10931-10936.    
  • 31. Gabriel C, Kellman L (2014) Investigating the role of moisture as an environmental constraint in the decomposition of shallow and deep mineral soil organic matter of a temperate coniferous soil. Soil Biol Biochem 68: 373-384.    
  • 32. Lu H, Liu S, Wang H, et al. (2017) Experimental throughfall reduction barely affects soil carbon dynamics in a warm-temperate oak forest, central China. Sci Rep 7: 15099.    
  • 33. Bond-Lamberty B, Bailey VL, Chen M, et al. (2018) Globally rising soil heterotrophic respiration over recent decades. Nature 560: 80-83.    
  • 34. Moyano FE, Vasilyeva NA, Bouckaert L, et al. (2012) The moisture response of soil heterotrophic respiration: interaction with soil properties. Biogeosciences 9: 1173-1182.    
  • 35. Wang Q, He T, Liu J (2016) Litter input decreased the response of soil organic matter decomposition to warming in two subtropical forest soils. Sci Rep 6: 33814.    
  • 36. Jung M, Reichstein M, Schwalm CR, et al. (2017) Compensatory water effects link yearly global land CO2 sink changes to temperature. Nature 541: 516-520.    
  • 37. Craine JM, Fierer N, McLauchlan KK (2010) Widespread coupling between the rate and temperature sensitivity of organic matter decay. Nat Geosci 3: 854-857.    
  • 38. Schmidt MWI, Torn MS, Abiven S, et al. (2011) Persistence of soil organic matter as an ecosystem property. Nature 478: 49-56.    
  • 39. Barré P, Fernandez-Ugalde O, Virto I, et al. (2014) Impact of phyllosilicate mineralogy on organic carbon stabilization in soils: incomplete knowledge and exciting prospects. Geoderma 235-236: 382-395.    


Reader Comments

your name: *   your email: *  

© 2019 the Author(s), licensee AIMS Press. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licese (

Download full text in PDF

Export Citation

Copyright © AIMS Press All Rights Reserved