Key predictors of soil organic matter vulnerability to mineralization differ with depth at a continental scale
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Soil organic matter (SOM) is the largest terrestrial pool of organic carbon, and potential carbon-climate feedbacks involving SOM decomposition could exacerbate anthropogenic climate change. However, our understanding of the controls on SOM mineralization is still incomplete, and as such, our ability to predict carbon-climate feedbacks is limited. To improve our understanding of controls on SOM decomposition, A and upper B horizon soil samples from 26 National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) sites spanning the conterminous U.S. were incubated for 52 weeks under conditions representing site-specific mean summer temperature and samplespecific field capacity (-33 kPa) water potential. Cumulative carbon dioxide respired was periodically measured and normalized by soil organic C content to calculate cumulative specific respiration (CSR), a metric of SOM vulnerability to mineralization. The Boruta algorithm, a feature selection algorithm, was used to select important predictors of CSR from 159 variables. A diverse suite of predictors was selected (12 for A horizons, 7 for B horizons) with predictors falling into three categories corresponding to SOM chemistry, reactive Fe and Al phases, and site moisture availability. The relationship between SOM chemistry predictors and CSR was complex, while sites that had greater concentrations of reactive Fe and Al phases or were wetter had lower CSR. Only three predictors were selected for both horizon types, suggesting dominant controls on SOM decomposition differ by horizon. Our findings contribute to the emerging consensus that a broad array of controls regulates SOM decomposition at large scales and highlight the need to consider changing controls with depth.
KeywordsNational Ecological Observatory Network; NEON; Soil organic carbon; Decomposition; Incubation; Cumulative specific respiration
Weiglein, Tyler L.; Strahm, Brian D.; Bowman, Maggie M.; Gallo, Adrian C.; Hatten, Jeff A.; Heckman, Katherine A.; Matosziuk, Lauren M.; Nave, Lucas E.; Possinger, Angela R.; SanClements, Michael D.; Swanston, Christopher W. 2022. Key predictors of soil organic matter vulnerability to mineralization differ with depth at a continental scale. Biogeochemistry. 157(1): 87-107. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-021-00856-x.