Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)
Research article, 2007

What determines the temperature response of soil organic matter decomposition?

Ågren, Göran; Wetterstedt, Johan Åke Martin


The temperature dependence of litter and soil organic matter (SOM) mineralisation is important because it determines how strong the feedback from the expected warmer climate may be on the atmospheric CO2 concentration. We have used a simple, analytical model to investigate how three different mechanism (i) the rate at which decomposers take up substrate at their surface; (ii) the rate by which substrate diffuses up to the surface of the decomposer; and (iii) the rate at which substrate is made available in the environment interact to determine the temperature response. The mechanisms are characterised by activation energies; two for the uptake rate (i) and one for each of the other two (ii, iii). The model shows that the temperature dependence is the result of the number of processes that effectively contributes to the rate of mineralisation; this result should also be valid if other processes are included. Depending upon the relative magnitude of the four activation energies, the temperature response is mainly determined by one or two of the mechanisms. In a transition zone, where all activation energies are similar and the number of contributing processes changes, there can be either a sharp increase or a sharp decrease in the temperature response when activation energies change.


Activation energy; Diffusion; Temperature sensitivity

Published in

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
2007, number: 39
Publisher: Elsevier

Permanent link to this page (URI)