Twenty Years of Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities in Measuring and Understanding Soil Respiration

Ben Bond-Lamberty, Ashley Ballantyne, Erin Berryman, Etienne Fluet-Chouinard, Jinshi Jian, Kendalynn A. Morris, Ana Rey, Rodrigo Vargas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil respiration (Rs), the soil-to-atmosphere flux of CO2, is a dominant but uncertain part of the carbon cycle, even after decades of study. This review focuses on progress in understanding Rs from laboratory incubations to global estimates. We survey key developments of in situ ecosystem-scale Rs observations and manipulations, synthesize Rs meta-analyses and global flux estimates, and discuss the most compelling challenges and opportunities for the future. Increasingly sophisticated lab experiments have yielded insights into the interaction among heterotrophic respiration, substrate supply, and enzymatic kinetics, and extended incubation-based analyses across space and time. Observational and manipulative field-based experiments have used improved measurement approaches to deepen our understanding of the integrated effects of environmental change and disturbance on Rs. Freely-available observational databases have enabled meta-analyses and studies probing the magnitude of, and constraints on, the global Rs flux. Key challenges for the field include expanding Rs measurements, experiments, and opportunities to under-represented communities and ecosystems; reconciling independent estimates of global respiration fluxes and trends; testing and leveraging the power of machine learning and process-based models, both independently and in conjunction with each other; and continuing the field's tradition of using novel experiments to explore diverse mechanisms and ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2023JG007637
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • carbon cycle
  • climate change
  • machine learning
  • review
  • soil respiration


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