, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 217–231 | Cite as

The global-scale temperature and moisture dependencies of soil organic carbon decomposition: an analysis using a mechanistic decomposition model

  • Takeshi Ise
  • Paul R. Moorcroft


Since the decomposition rate of soil organic carbon (SOC) varies as a function of environmental conditions, global climate change is expected to alter SOC decomposition dynamics, and the resulting changes in the amount of CO2 emitted from soils will feedback onto the rate at which climate change occurs. While this soil feedback is expected to be significant because the amount of SOC is substantially more than the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, the environmental dependencies of decomposition at global scales that determine the magnitude of the soil feedback have remained poorly characterized. In this study, we address this issue by fitting a mechanistic decomposition model to a global dataset of SOC, optimizing the model’s temperature and moisture dependencies to best match the observed global distribution of SOC. The results of the analysis indicate that the temperature sensitivity of decomposition at global scales (Q 10=1.37) is significantly less than is assumed by many terrestrial ecosystem models that directly apply temperature sensitivity from small-scale studies, and that the maximal rate of decomposition occurs at higher moisture values than is assumed by many models. These findings imply that the magnitude of the soil decomposition feedback onto rate of global climate change will be less sensitive to increases in temperature, and modeling of temperature and moisture dependencies of SOC decomposition in global-scale models should consider effects of scale.


Carbon cycling Climate change Modeling Decomposition Q10 Likelihood 


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We appreciate the helpful comments from Professor Michael G. Ryan and Dr. Christian P. Giardina. The graduate study of Takeshi Ise is supported by the James Mills Peirce Fellowship provided by the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Comments from anonymous reviewers have clarified the manuscript, and suggestions and discussions on the Q 10 concept and other fundamental assumptions are extremely valuable.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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