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Title: Climate Change Feedbacks from Interactions Between New and Old Carbon

Priming effects, or responses of SOM decomposition rates to inputs of new, labile carbon (C), have the potential to dramatically alter projections of ecosystem C storage. Priming effects occur in most ecosystems, are significant in magnitude, and are highly sensitive to global changes. Nevertheless, our mechanistic understanding of priming effects remains poor, and this has prevented the inclusion of these dynamics into current Earth system models (ESMs). We conducted two manipulative experiments in the field to quantify how priming effects influence SOM dynamics. Specifically, we asked: To what extent do inputs of “new” root-derived carbon (C) influence “older” C in SOM, and are the magnitude and direction of these effects sensitive to climate? We addressed these questions within the Boston-Area Climate Experiment - an old-field ecosystem that has been subjected to three precipitation treatments (ambient, -50%, and +50% of each precipitation event during the growing season) and four warming treatments (from ambient to +4°C) since 2008. In the first experiment, we installed root and fungal ingrowth cores into the plots. Each core was filled with SOM that had an isotopic signature (of its C compounds) that differed from the vegetation in the plots such that inputs of “new” C frommore » roots/fungi could be quantified using the change in isotopic signatures of C in the cores. Further, we used cores with different mesh sizes to isolate root vs. mycorrhizal fungal inputs. We found that belowground C fluxes were dominated by root inputs (as opposed to mycorrhizal inputs), and that root-derived inputs were greatest in the plots subjected to experimental warming. Given that that the warming-induced increase in belowground C flux did not result in a net increase in soil C, we conclude that the warming treatment likely enhanced priming effects in these soils. In the second experiment, we experimentally dripped dissolved organic C compounds into soils in the BACE plots to simulate root-derived C fluxes. Specifically, we constructed artificial roots attached to an automated peristaltic pump to deliver the compounds to soil semi-continuously during the peak of the growing season. We found that changes in exudate quality had small but significant effects on microbial activities, often interacting with N availability and temperature-induced changes. These results further underscore the importance of priming effects, especially under warming conditions. Collectively, our results provide some of the first field-based estimates of how soil moisture and temperature can directly and indirectly alter root-induced changes in SOM dynamics. This exploratory project lays the groundwork for further research on priming that incorporates effects of plant species and microbial communities to global changes. Such information should enable the development of more mechanistic and better predictive models of SOM decomposition under increased greenhouse gas levels, with the ultimate goal of reducing the level of uncertainty in projections of future climate.« less
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  1. Purdue Univ., West Lafayette, IN (United States)
  2. Indiana Univ., Bloomington, IN (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Purdue Univ., West Lafayette, IN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Contributing Orgs:
Indiana Univ., Bloomington, IN (United States)
Country of Publication:
United States