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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Impact of priming on global soil carbon stocks.

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Fresh carbon input (above and belowground) contributes to soil carbon sequestration, but also accelerates decomposition of soil organic matter through biological priming mechanisms. Currently, poor understanding precludes the incorporation of these priming mechanisms into the global carbon models used for future projections. Here, we show that priming can be incorporated based on a simple equation calibrated from incubation and verified against independent litter manipulation experiments in the global land surface model, ORCHIDEE. When incorporated into ORCHIDEE, priming improved the model's representation of global soil carbon stocks and decreased soil carbon sequestration by 51% (12 ± 3 Pg C) during the period 1901-2010. Future projections with the same model across the range of CO2 and climate changes defined by the IPCC-RCP scenarios reveal that priming buffers the projected changes in soil carbon stocks - both the increases due to enhanced productivity and new input to the soil, and the decreases due to warming-induced accelerated decomposition. Including priming in Earth system models leads to different projections of soil carbon changes, which are challenging to verify at large spatial scales.

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