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Climate warming enhances multiple ecosystem C fluxes, but the net impact of changing C fluxes on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks over decadal to centennial time scales remains unclear. We investigated the effects of climate on C fluxes and soil C stocks using space-for-time substitution along a boreal forest climate gradient encompassing spatially replicated sites at each of three latitudes. All regions had similar SOC concentrations and stocks (5.6 to 6.7 kg C m−2). The three lowest latitude forests exhibited the highest productivity across the transect, with tree biomass:age ratios and litterfall rates 300 and 125% higher than those in the highest latitude forests, respectively. Likewise, higher soil respiration rates (~55%) and dissolved organic C fluxes (~300%) were observed in the lowest latitude forests compared to those in the highest latitude forests. The mid-latitude forests exhibited intermediate values for these indices and fluxes. The mean radiocarbon content (Δ14C) of mineral-associated SOC (+9.6‰) was highest in the lowest latitude forests, indicating a more rapid turnover of soil C compared to the mid- and highest latitude soils (Δ14C of −35 and −30‰, respectively). Indicators of the extent of soil organic matter decomposition, including C:N, δ13C, and amino acid and alkyl-C:O-alkyl-C indices, revealed highly decomposed material across all regions. These data indicate that the lowest latitude forests experience accelerated C fluxes that maintain relatively young but highly decomposed SOC. Collectively, these observations of within-biome soil C responses to climate demonstrate that the enhanced rates of SOC loss that typically occur with warming can be balanced on decadal to centennial time scales by enhanced rates of C inputs.

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Ziegler, S. E., Benner, R., Billings, S. A., Edwards, K. A., Philben, M., Zhu, X., & Laganière, J. (2017). Climate warming can accelerate carbon fluxes without changing soil carbon stocks. Frontiers in Earth Science, 5.


© 2017 Ziegler, Benner, Billings, Edwards, Philben, Zhu and Laganière. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.