Root Mediation of Soil Organic Matter Feedbacks to Climate Change
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 10:35 AM
The importance of plant roots in carbon cycling and especially soil organic matter (SOM) formation and decomposition has been recently recognized. Up to eighty percent of net primary production may be allocated to roots in ecosystems such as grasslands, where they contribute substantially to SOM formation. On the other hand, root induced priming of SOM decomposition has been implicated in the loss of soil C stocks. Thus, the accurate prediction of climate change impacts on C sequestration in soils largely depends upon improved understanding of root-mediated SOM formation and loss in the rhizosphere. This presentation represents an initial attempt to synthesize belowground observations from free-air CO2 enrichment and warming experiments in two grassland ecosystems. We found that the chemical composition of root carbon is similar to particulate organic matter (POM), but not to mineral associated organic matter (MOM), suggesting less microbial modification during formation of POM than MOM. While root biomass and production rates increased under elevated CO2, POM and MOM fractions did not increase proportionally. We also observed increased root decomposition with elevated CO2, which was likely due to increased soil water and substrate availability, since root C quality (determined by NMR) and decomposition (in laboratory incubations) were unaltered. Further, C quality and decomposition rates of roots differed between C3 and C4 functional types. Changes in root morphology with elevated CO2 have altered root functioning. Increased root surface area and length per unit mass allow increased exploration for nutrients, and potentially enhanced root exudation, rhizodeposition, and priming of SOM decomposition. Controlled chamber experiments demonstrated that uptake of N from SOM was linearly correlated with specific root length. Taken together, these results indicate that root morphology, chemistry and function all play roles in affecting soil C storage and loss, and that these properties are altered by climate change and by species composition in grasslands. Ecosystem C cycling models can be improved by incorporating root-mediated mechanisms of plant community dynamics, nutrient uptake, priming of SOM decomposition, and rhizodeposition to SOM pools.