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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Sensitivity of soil respiration rate with respect to temperature, moisture and oxygen under freezing and thawing

Azizi-Rad, Mina; Guggenberger, Georg; Ma, Yaoming; Sierra, Carlos


In alpine environments, the decomposition rate of soil organic carbon (SOC) is controlled by several biotic and abiotic factors, which mostly change simultaneously and often lead to freezing and thawing cycles. However, it is highly uncertain whether the temperature sensitivity of decomposition around the freezing point of water is similar as in higher temperature ranges. In this study, we conducted a full factorial incubation experiment using soil samples from a grassland site in the Tibetan Plateau. A manipulative freeze-thaw cycle was imposed to these soils by continuously changing temperature, from -5 to 10 degrees C. Additional treatments included 4 levels of soil moisture at 15, 30, 60 and 90% of water-filled pore space (WFPS), and two levels of O-2 concentration at 0 and 20%. We fitted the Arrhenius equation into the flux data to estimate the activation energy (E-a) and base flux rate (A) for each treatment level. Then, we predicted the dependence and sensitivity of decomposition rate (k) by implementing the Dual Arrhenius and Michaelis-Menten (DAMM) model using a Bayesian optimization approach. While soil temperature had the strongest control on SOC decomposition rate at all soil moisture and O-2 levels, its intrinsic temperature sensitivity (Delta k/Delta T) remained nearly constant across the entire temperature range except around 0 degrees C. We found that E-a was higher in nearly dry or anoxic conditions, suggesting that in these extremes more energy is required for microbial activity to take place. These intrinsic sensitivities revealed that temperature (energy) is the main factor that limits decomposition in cold environments provided that moisture and oxygen are sufficiently available. Intrinsic sensitivities with respect to soil moisture and oxygen concentration were only relevant at very narrow ranges, when soils were almost dry or partially anoxic, and small changes within these narrow ranges may lead to very strong changes in decomposition rates.


Soil carbon; Decomposition rate; Intrinsic sensitivity; Soil incubation; Michaelis-Menten; Tibetan Plateau

Published in

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
2022, Volume: 165, article number: 108488

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    Soil Science

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