Integrating microbial physiology and physio-chemical principles in soils with the MIcrobial-MIneral Carbon Stabilization (MIMICS) model
Abstract. A growing body of literature documents the pressing need to develop soil biogeochemistry models that more accurately reflect contemporary understanding of soil processes and better capture soil carbon (C) responses to environmental perturbations. Models that explicitly represent microbial activity offer inroads to improve representations of soil biogeochemical processes, but have yet to consider relationships between litter quality, functional differences in microbial physiology, and the physical protection of microbial byproducts in forming stable soil organic matter (SOM). To address these limitations, we introduce the MIcrobial-MIneral Carbon Stabilization (MIMICS) model, and evaluate it by comparing site-level soil C projections with observations from a long-term litter decomposition study and soil warming experiment. In MIMICS, the turnover of litter and SOM pools is governed by temperature-sensitive Michaelis–Menten kinetics and the activity of two physiologically distinct microbial functional types. The production of microbial residues through microbial turnover provides inputs to SOM pools that are considered physically or chemically protected. Soil clay content determines the physical protection of SOM in different soil environments. MIMICS adequately simulates the mean rate of leaf litter decomposition observed at temperate and boreal forest sites, and captures observed effects of litter quality on decomposition rates. Moreover, MIMICS better captures the response of SOM pools to experimental warming, with rapid SOM losses but declining temperature sensitivity to long-term warming, compared with a more conventional model structure. MIMICS incorporates current microbial theory to explore the mechanisms by which litter C is converted to stable SOM, and to improve predictions of soil C responses to environmental change.