Characterizing Feedback Control Mechanisms in Nonlinear Microbial Models of Soil Organic Matter Decomposition by Stability Analysis

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Katerina Georgiou, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, Jinyun Tang, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Berkeley, CA, United States, William J Riley, Lawrence Berkeley Natl Lab, Berkeley, CA, United States and Margaret S Torn, Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States
Soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition is regulated by biotic and abiotic processes. Feedback interactions between such processes may act to dampen oscillatory responses to perturbations from equilibrium. Indeed, although biological oscillations have been observed in small-scale laboratory incubations, the overlying behavior at the plot-scale exhibits a relatively stable response to disturbances in input rates and temperature. Recent studies have demonstrated the ability of microbial models to capture nonlinear feedbacks in SOM decomposition that linear Century-type models are unable to reproduce, such as soil priming in response to increased carbon input. However, these microbial models often exhibit strong oscillatory behavior that is deemed unrealistic. The inherently nonlinear dynamics of SOM decomposition have important implications for global climate-carbon and carbon-concentration feedbacks. It is therefore imperative to represent these dynamics in Earth System Models (ESMs) by introducing sub-models that accurately represent microbial and abiotic processes.

In the present study we explore, both analytically and numerically, four microbe-enabled model structures of varying levels of complexity. The most complex model combines microbial physiology, a non-linear mineral sorption isotherm, and enzyme dynamics. Based on detailed stability analysis of the nonlinear dynamics, we calculate the system modes as functions of model parameters. This dependence provides insight into the source of state oscillations. We find that feedback mechanisms that emerge from careful representation of enzyme and mineral interactions, with parameter values in a prescribed range, are critical for both maintaining system stability and capturing realistic responses to disturbances. Corroborating and expanding upon the results of recent studies, we explain the emergence of oscillatory responses and discuss the appropriate microbe-enabled model structure for inclusion in ESMs.