Can models adequately reflect how long-term nitrogen enrichment alters the forest soil carbon cycle?

Eastman, Brooke A.; Wieder, William R.; Hartman, Melannie D.; Brzostek, Edward R.; Peterjohn, William T.

Changes in the nitrogen (N) status of forest ecosystems can directly and indirectly influence their carbon (C) sequestration potential by altering soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition, soil enzyme activity, and plant–soil interactions. However, model representations of linked C–N cycles and SOM decay are not well validated against experimental data. Here, we use extensive data from the Fernow Experimental Forest long-term whole-watershed N fertilization study to compare the response to N perturbations of two soil models that represent decomposition dynamics differently (first-order decay versus microbially explicit reverse Michaelis–Menten kinetics). These two soil models were coupled to a common vegetation model which provided identical input data. Key responses to N additions measured at the study site included a shift in plant allocation to favor woody biomass over belowground carbon inputs, reductions in soil respiration, accumulation of particulate organic matter (POM), and an increase in soil inline-formulaC:N ratios. The vegetation model did not capture the often-observed shift in plant C allocation with N additions, which resulted in poor predictions of the soil responses. We modified the parameterization of the plant C allocation scheme to favor wood production over fine-root production with N additions, which significantly improved the vegetation and soil respiration responses. Additionally, to elicit an increase in the soil C stocks and inline-formulaC:N ratios with N additions, as observed, we modified the decay rates of the POM in the soil models. With these modifications, both models captured negative soil respiration and positive soil C stock responses in line with observations, but only the microbially explicit model captured an increase in soil inline-formulaC:N. Our results highlight the need for further model development to accurately represent plant–soil interactions, such as rhizosphere priming, and their responses to environmental change.

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Eastman, Brooke A. / Wieder, William R. / Hartman, Melannie D. / et al: Can models adequately reflect how long-term nitrogen enrichment alters the forest soil carbon cycle?. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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