Aligning theoretical and empirical representations of soil carbon-to-nitrogen stoichiometry with process-based terrestrial biogeochemistry models

Katherine S. Rocci, Cory C. Cleveland, Brooke A. Eastman, Katerina Georgiou, A. Stuart Grandy, Melannie D. Hartman, Emma Hauser, Hannah Holland-Moritz, Emily Kyker-Snowman, Derek Pierson, Peter B. Reich, Else P. Schlerman, William R. Wieder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Soil carbon-nitrogen (C:N) stoichiometry acts as a control over decomposition and soil organic matter formation and loss, making it a key soil property for understanding ecosystem dynamics and projected ecosystems responses to global environmental change. However, the controls of soil C:N and how they respond to increasing pressures from global change agents are not fully understood. The “foundational” controls on soil C:N, namely plant and microbial C:N, have been used to predict soil C:N, but fail to accurately simulate all ecosystems and may be insufficient for predictions under global environmental change. We present an “emerging” representation of controls of soil C:N that includes plant-microbe-mineral feedbacks that have been shown to regulate soil C:N. We argue that including representation of these emerging drivers in process-based terrestrial biogeochemistry models, which include biological N fixation, mycorrhizae, priming, root exudation of organic acids, and mineralogy (including soil texture, mineral composition, and aggregation), will improve mechanistic representation of soil C:N and associated processes. Such improvements will produce models that will better simulate a variety of ecological states and predict soil C:N when global changes modify plant-microbe-mineral interactions. Here, we align our empirical understanding of controls of soil C:N with those controls represented in models, identifying contexts where emerging drivers might be particularly important to represent (e.g., priming and root exudation in nutrient-limited conditions) and areas of future work. Additionally, we show that implementing emerging drivers of soil C:N results in different simulated outcomes at steady state and in response to elevated atmospheric CO2. Our review and preliminary simulations support the need to incorporate emerging drivers of soil C:N into process-based terrestrial biogeochemistry models, allowing for both theoretical exploration of mechanisms and potentially more accurate predictions of land biogeochemical responses to global change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109272
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Feb 2024


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