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Title: Partitioning of soil respiration at the PHACE experiment: A two-method comparison

item Pendall, Elise
item Dijkstra, Feike
item Carrillo, Yolima
item Wallenstein, Matthew
item Williams, David
item Heisler-white, Jana
item Lecain, Daniel
item Morgan, Jack

Submitted to: Ecological Society of America Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/15/2009
Publication Date: 7/1/2009
Citation: Pendall, E., Dijkstra, F.A., Carrillo, Y., Wallenstein, M., Williams, D., Heisler-White, J., Lecain, D.R., Morgan, J.A. 2009. Partitioning of soil respiration at the PHACE experiment: A two-method comparison. Ecological Society of America Proceedings. COS 100-4.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Elevated CO2 and warming are both known to stimulate soil respiration rates, leading to concerns regarding soil-related feedback effects on climate change. We investigated soil C cycling at the Prairie Heating and CO2 Enrichment (PHACE) experiment near Cheyenne, WY, a factorial experiment combining FACE (ambient and elevated [600 ppm] CO2 concentration), experimental warming (1.5°C daytime, 3°C nighttime) and irrigation to evaluate direct, indirect and interactive effects of global changes on native grassland structure and function. We measured soil respiration rates and applied two methods (vegetation removal by herbicide and stable isotopes) to partition the total flux into root respiration and decomposition components, during the growing season of 2008. We hypothesized that soil respiration and decomposition would be stimulated by elevated CO2 and experimental warming, and that vegetation removal would provide more comprehensive results in comparison with stable isotope partitioning. Experimental warming did not alter soil respiration or decomposition rates during the study period. Elevated CO2 did not alter soil respiration rates on undisturbed mixed-grass prairie, but it stimulated decomposition on non-vegetated plots by ~40% at ambient temperature and 60% at elevated temperature. These results are consistent with a priming effect due to increased labile C allocation belowground under elevated CO2 that enhances decomposition. Vegetation removal suggested that decomposition from ambient CO2 plots was 35% of total soil respiration, and that from elevated CO2 plots was 52% of soil respiration. The delta13C value of soil respiration in non-vegetated, elevated CO2 plots was similar to that in undisturbed plots, showing that labile substrates remained available for decomposition for several months following herbicide application. Stable isotopes suggested that warming in combination with elevated CO2 enhanced decomposition of older soil organic matter, in comparison to unwarmed, elevated CO2 plots. This research suggests that although vegetation removal causes disturbance, it can be applied in situations that do not allow stable isotope partitioning, and is reasonably straightforward to interpret. Uncertainties in stable isotope partitioning owing to determination of “end member” isotope values and non-steady state respiration conditions make it more challenging to apply. Additional research to quantify effects of elevated CO2 and warming on decomposition of soil organic matter will reduce uncertainties in model predictions of future climate.