Modeling Root Exudation, Priming and Protection in Soil Carbon Responses to Elevated CO2 from Ecosystem to Global Scales
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:15 AM
The sensitivity of soil organic carbon (SOC) to changing environmental conditions represents a critical uncertainty in coupled carbon cycle-climate models. Much of this uncertainty arises from our limited understanding of the extent to which plants induce SOC losses (through accelerated decomposition or "priming") or promote SOC gains (via stabilization through physico-chemical protection). We developed a new SOC model, "Carbon, Organisms, Rhizosphere and Protection in the Soil Environment" (CORPSE), to examine the net effect of priming and protection in response to rising atmospheric CO2, and conducted simulations of rhizosphere priming effects at both ecosystem and global scales. At the ecosystem scale, the model successfully captured and explained disparate SOC responses at the Duke and Oak Ridge free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) experiments. We show that stabilization of "new" carbon in protected SOC pools may equal or exceed microbial priming of "old" SOC in ecosystems with readily decomposable litter (e.g. Oak Ridge). In contrast, carbon losses owing to priming dominate the net SOC response in ecosystems with more resistant litters (e.g. Duke). For global simulations, the model was fully integrated into the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) land model LM3. Globally, priming effects driven by enhanced root exudation and expansion of the rhizosphere reduced SOC storage in the majority of terrestrial areas, partially counterbalancing SOC gains from the enhanced ecosystem productivity driven by CO2 fertilization. Collectively, our results suggest that SOC stocks globally depend not only on temperature and moisture, but also on vegetation responses to environmental changes, and that protected C may provide an important constraint on priming effects.