Warming mineralises young and old soil carbon equally

Conen, F.; Leifeld, J.; Seth, B.; Alewell, C.

The temperature sensitivity of soil organic carbon decomposition is critical for predicting future climate change because soils store 2-3 times the amount of atmospheric carbon. Of particular controversy is the question, whether temperature sensitivity differs between young or labile and old or more stable carbon pools. Ambiguities in experimental methodology have so far limited corroboration of any particular hypothesis. Here, we show in a clear-cut approach that differences in temperature sensitivity between young and old carbon are negligible. Using the change in stable isotope composition in transitional systems from C3 to C4 vegetation, we were able to directly distinguish the temperature sensitivity of carbon differing several decades in age. This method had several advantages over previously followed approaches. It allowed to identify release of much older carbon, avoided un-natural conditions of long-term incubations and did not require arguable curve-fitting. Our results demonstrate that feedbacks of the carbon cycle on climate change are driven equally by young and old soil organic carbon.

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Conen, F. / Leifeld, J. / Seth, B. / et al: Warming mineralises young and old soil carbon equally. 2006. Copernicus Publications.

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