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Microbial community-level regulation explains soil carbon responses to long-term litter manipulations

  • Author(s): Georgiou, Katerina
  • Abramoff, Rose Z
  • Harte, John
  • Riley, William J
  • Torn, Margaret S
  • et al.

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Climatic, atmospheric, and land-use changes all have the potential to alter soil microbial activity, mediated by changes in plant inputs. Many microbial models of soil organic carbon (SOC) decomposition have been proposed recently to advance prediction of climate and carbon (C) feedbacks. Most of these models, however, exhibit unrealistic oscillatory behavior and SOC insensitivity to long-term changes in C inputs. Here we diagnose the source of these problems in four archetypal models and propose a density-dependent formulation of microbial turnover, motivated by community-level interactions, that limits population sizes and reduces oscillations. We compare model predictions to 24 long-term C-input field manipulations and identify key benchmarks. The proposed formulation reproduces soil C responses to long-term C-input changes and implies greater SOC storage associated with CO2-fertilization-driven increases in C inputs over the coming century compared to recent microbial models. This study provides a simple modification to improve microbial models for inclusion in Earth System Models.

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