Faculty Publications

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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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APA Citation

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.