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Open Access Publications from the University of California

ORCHIMIC (v1.0), a microbe-mediated model for soil organic matter decomposition


The role of soil microorganisms in regulating soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition is of primary importance in the carbon cycle, in particular in the context of global change. Modeling soil microbial community dynamics to simulate its impact on soil gaseous carbon (C) emissions and nitrogen (N) mineralization at large spatial scales is a recent research field with the potential to improve predictions of SOM responses to global climate change. In this study we present a SOM model called ORCHIMIC, which utilizes input data that are consistent with those of global vegetation models. ORCHIMIC simulates the decomposition of SOM by explicitly accounting for enzyme production and distinguishing three different microbial functional groups: Fresh organic matter (FOM) specialists, SOM specialists, and generalists, while also implicitly accounting for microbes that do not produce extracellular enzymes, i.e., cheaters. ORCHIMIC and two other organic matter decomposition models, CENTURY (based on first-order kinetics and representative of the structure of most current global soil carbon models) and PRIM (with FOM accelerating the decomposition rate of SOM), were calibrated to reproduce the observed respiration fluxes of FOM and SOM from the incubation experiments of Blagodatskaya et al. (2014). Among the three models, ORCHIMIC was the only one that effectively captured both the temporal dynamics of the respiratory fluxes and the magnitude of the priming effect observed during the incubation experiment. ORCHIMIC also effectively reproduced the temporal dynamics of microbial biomass. We then applied different idealized changes to the model input data, i.e., a 5K stepwise increase of temperature and/or a doubling of plant litter inputs. Under 5K warming conditions, ORCHIMIC predicted a 0.002K-1 decrease in the C use efficiency (defined as the ratio of C allocated to microbial growth to the sum of C allocated to growth and respiration) and a 3% loss of SOC. Under the double litter input scenario, ORCHIMIC predicted a doubling of microbial biomass, while SOC stock increased by less than 1% due to the priming effect. This limited increase in SOC stock contrasted with the proportional increase in SOC stock as modeled by the conventional SOC decomposition model (CENTURY), which can not reproduce the priming effect. If temperature increased by 5K and litter input was doubled, ORCHIMIC predicted almost the same loss of SOC as when only temperature was increased. These tests suggest that the responses of SOC stock to warming and increasing input may differ considerably from those simulated by conventional SOC decomposition models when microbial dynamics are included. The next step is to incorporate the ORCHIMIC model into a global vegetation model to perform simulations for representative sites and future scenarios.

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