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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2019

Generic parameters of first-order kinetics accurately describe soil organic matter decay in bare fallow soils over a wide edaphic and climatic range

Menichetti, Lorenzo; Agren, Goran, I; Barre, Pierre; Moyano, Fernando; Katterer, Thomas


The conventional soil organic matter (SOM) decay paradigm considers the intrinsic quality of SOM as the dominant decay limitation with the result that it is modelled using simple first-order decay kinetics. This view and modelling approach is often criticized for being too simplistic and unreliable for predictive purposes. It is still under debate if first-order models can correctly capture the variability in temporal SOM decay observed between different agroecosystems and climates. To address this question, we calibrated a first-order model (Q) on six long-term bare fallow field experiments across Europe. Following conventional SOM decay theory, we assumed that parameters directly describing SOC decay (rate of SOM quality change and decomposer metabolism) are thermodynamically constrained and therefore valid for all sites. Initial litter input quality and edaphic interactions (both local by definition) and microbial efficiency (possibly affected by nutrient stoichiometry) were instead considered site-specific. Initial litter input quality explained most observed kinetics variability, and the model predicted a convergence toward a common kinetics over time. Site-specific variables played no detectable role. The decay of decades-old SOM seemed mostly influenced by OM chemistry and was well described by first order kinetics and a single set of general kinetics parameters.


Soil organic carbon (SOC); surface carbon; soil organic matter (SOM); carbon sequestration; climate change mitigation; agroecosystems; carbon dynamics

Published in

Scientific Reports
2019, Volume: 9, article number: 20319