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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Soil properties control decomposition of soil organic carbon: Results from data-assimilation analysis


Soil properties, such as clay content, are hypothesized to control decomposition of soil organic carbon (SOC). However, these hypotheses of soil property-C decomposition relationships have not been explicitly tested at large spatial scales. Here, we used a data-assimilation approach to evaluate the roles of soil properties and environmental factors in regulating decomposition of SOC. A three-pool (active, slow, and passive) C-cycling model was optimally fitted with 376 published laboratory incubation data from soils acquired from 73 sites with mean annual temperature ranging from -. 15 to 26. °C. Our results showed that soil physical and chemical properties regulated decomposition rates of the active and the slow C pools. Decomposition rates were lower for soils with high clay content, high field water holding capacity (WHC), and high C:N ratio. Multifactor regression and structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses showed that clay content was the most important variable in regulating decomposition of SOC. In contrast to the active and slow C pools, soil properties or environmental factors had little effect on the decomposition of the passive C pool. Our results show inverse soil property-C decomposition relationships and quantitatively evaluate the essential roles of soil texture (clay content) in controlling decomposition of SOC at a large spatial scale. The results may help model development and projection of changes in terrestrial C sequestration in the future.

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