Responses of soil respiration (Rs) to anthropogenic climate change will affect terrestrial carbon storage and, thus, feed back to warming. To provide insight into how warming and changes in precipitation regimes affect the rate and temperature sensitivity of Rs and rhizosphere respiration (Rr) across the year, we subjected a New England old-field ecosystem to four levels of warming and three levels of precipitation (ambient, drought, and wet treatments). We measured Rs and heterotrophic respiration (Rh) monthly (in areas of the plots with and without plants, respectively) and estimated Rr by calculating the difference in respiration between Rs and Rh. Even in this mesic ecosystem, Rs and Rr responded strongly to the precipitation treatments. Drought reduced Rs and Rr, both annually and during the growing season. Annual cumulative Rs responded nonlinearly to precipitation treatments; both drought and supplemental precipitation suppressed Rs compared to the ambient treatment. Warming increased Rs and Rr in spring and winter when soil moisture was optimal but decreased these rates in summer when moisture was limiting. Cumulative winter Rr increased by about 200% in the high warming (approximately 3.5 degrees C) treatment. The effect of climate treatments on the temperature sensitivity of Rs depended on the season. In the fall, the drought treatment decreased apparent Q10 relative to the other precipitation treatments. The responses of Rs to warming and altered precipitation were largely driven by changes in Rr. We emphasize the importance of incorporating realistic soil moisture responses into simulations of soil carbon fluxes; the long-term effects of warming on carbon--climate feedback will depend on future precipitation regimes. Our results highlight the nonlinear responses of soil respiration to soil moisture and, to our knowledge, quantify for the first time the loss of carbon through winter rhizosphere respiration due to warming. While this additional loss is small relative to the cumulative annual flux in this system, such increases in rhizosphere respiration during the non-growing season could have greater consequences in ecosystems where they offset or reduce subsequent warming-induced gains in plant growth.


Copyright by the Ecological Society of America, Suseela, V., Dukes, J.S. 2013. The responses of soil and rhizosphere respiration to simulated climatic changes vary by season. Ecology 94: 403-413

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