Global warming: Carbon-nutrient interactions and warming effects on soil carbon dynamics
Date: 30 September 2014
University of Exeter
In order to predict how terrestrial ecosystems will respond to global change, there is growing recognition that we need to better understand linkages between plant and soil processes. Previously the factors and processes with potential to influence the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle have been investigated in isolation from each other. ...
In order to predict how terrestrial ecosystems will respond to global change, there is growing recognition that we need to better understand linkages between plant and soil processes. Previously the factors and processes with potential to influence the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle have been investigated in isolation from each other. This study investigated the interactions of nutrient availability and warming in controlling the soil carbon dynamics, with regards to the fate of already sequestered carbon in soil, under conditions of increasing atmospheric temperatures. The project objectives were addressed by three independent experiments designed to explain specific components of the carbon-nutrient cycle interactions, and the findings brought together to describe the implications for future soil carbon storage. The main measurements collected throughout this project included soil carbon dioxide (CO2) fluxes, partitioned into autotrophic and heterotrophic components, net ecosystem exchange and respiration fluxes, and background soil moisture and temperature data, backed by gas, soil and biomass analyses. In the two field experiments, these measurements were taken from plots with or without any inorganic nutrient additions or in the presence or absence of legumes providing biological nitrogen addition to the ecosystem. In the laboratory, temperature and nutrient availability were manipulated within the ecosystem. The reduction in decomposition rates, without reduction of productivity as a result of inorganic nutrient additions, indicated the potential for increasing C storage. There was also evidence that nutrient availability controls the strength of the link between plant and soil processes in semi-natural grasslands. The yields, decomposition rates and soil C fluxes recorded in the presence and absence of legumes provided some evidence of N2 fixation, improving ecosystem productivity and soil properties while reducing soil C effluxes, in a managed grassland. In the laboratory, the warming of soils from lysimeters with and without plants, receiving or not receiving fertiliser, supported the findings from field experiments regarding the importance of the soil-plant link in controlling C fluxes. However, C stocks and δ13C analyses showed that over a year’s worth of warming and nutrient manipulations made little difference to the amount of C stored in the soil, indicating that edaphic factors have greater control over the response of C dynamics to increased temperatures.
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