Drivers of microbial respiration and net N mineralization at the continental scale

Benjamin P. Colman, Joshua P. Schimel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations

Abstract

The dominant pools of C and N in the terrestrial biosphere are in soils, and understanding what factors control the rates at which these pools cycle is essential in understanding soil CO2 production and N availability. Many previous studies have examined large scale patterns in decomposition of C and N in plant litter and organic soils, but few have done so in mineral soils, and fewer have looked beyond ecosystem specific, regional, or gradient-specific drivers. In this study, we examined the rates of microbial respiration and net N mineralization in 84 distinct mineral soils in static laboratory incubations. We examined patterns in C and N pool sizes, microbial biomass, and process rates by vegetation type (grassland, shrubland, coniferous forest, and deciduous/broadleaf forest). We also modeled microbial respiration and net N mineralization in relation to soil and site characteristics using structural equation modeling to identify potential process drivers across soils. While we did not explicitly investigate the influence of soil organic matter quality, microbial community composition, or clay mineralogy on microbial process rates in this study, our models allow us to put boundaries on the unique explanatory power these characteristics could potentially provide in predicting respiration and net N mineralization. Mean annual temperature and precipitation, soil C concentration, microbial biomass, and clay content predicted 78% of the variance in microbial respiration, with 61% explained by microbial biomass alone. For net N mineralization, only 33% of the variance was explained, with mean annual precipitation, soil C and N concentration, and clay content as the potential drivers. We suggest that the high R2 for respiration suggests that soil organic matter quality, microbial community composition, and clay mineralogy explain at most 22% of the variance in respiration, while they could explain up to 67% of the variance in net N mineralization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Volume60
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2013

Keywords

  • Continental scale
  • Decomposition
  • Large scale drivers
  • Microbial respiration
  • N mineralization
  • Structural equation modeling

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