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Soil carbon loss is more sensitive to climate change compared to carbon taken up by plants

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Posted: 07 Mar 2017 07:03 AM PST  full ScienceDaily article here

A new study has found that soil carbon loss is more sensitive to climate change compared to carbon taken up by plants. In drier regions, soil carbon loss decreased but in wetter regions soil carbon loss increased. This could result in a positive feedback to the atmosphere leading to an additional increase of atmospheric CO2 levels…

The authors showed that soil carbon loss is most responsive to change in soil water. Soil water plays a critical role in wet soils where water logging limits decomposition processes by soil biota resulting in a build-up of soil carbon as peat. Drying of the soil removes this limitation resulting in soil carbon loss. In contrast in drier soils, reduced rainfall reduces soil water below the optimum for soil biota resulting in a decrease in soil carbon loss. Most of the earth’s terrestrial carbon is stored in soil. The world’s soil carbon stocks are estimated to be circa 2000 gigatonnes (1 gigatonne = 1,000,000,000,000 kilograms) of carbon. The researchers showed that drought decreases and increases soil carbon more predictably than warming….

“This cross-European study enabled us, for the first, time to investigate plant and soil responses to climate change beyond single sites. Putting ecosystem responses to climate change into the wider context of natural climate gradients helps us to understand the observed responses of plants and soils better.”…

The new paper in Scientific Reports considers plant and soil responses to drought and warming only across European shrublands. There are several other biomes in the world where plant and soil responses to climate change could be different. Understanding the responses of plants and soils in other biomes will provide a better understanding of climate change and the effects on global plant and soil interactions and the feedbacks to climate.

Sabine Reinsch et al. Shrubland primary production and soil respiration diverge along European climate gradient. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 43952 DOI: 10.1038/srep43952

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