Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
13 May 2008
 | 13 May 2008

Colimitation of decomposition by substrate and decomposers – a comparison of model formulations

T. Wutzler and M. Reichstein

Abstract. Decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) is limited by both the available substrate and the active decomposer community. The understanding of this colimitation strongly affects the understanding of feedbacks of soil carbon to global warming and its consequences. This study compares different formulations of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition. We compiled formulations from literature into groups according to the representation of decomposer biomass on the SOM decomposition rate a) non-explicit (substrate only), b) linear, and c) non-linear. By varying the SOM decomposition equation in a basic simplified decomposition model, we analyzed the following questions. Is the priming effect represented? Under which conditions is SOM accumulation limited? And, how does steady state SOM stocks scale with amount of fresh organic matter (FOM) litter inputs? While formulations (a) did not represent the priming effect, with formulations (b) steady state SOM stocks were independent of amount of litter input. Further, with several formulations (c) there was an offset of SOM that was not decomposed when no fresh OM was supplied. The finding that a part of the SOM is not decomposed on exhaust of FOM supply supports the hypothesis of carbon stabilization in deep soil by the absence of energy-rich fresh organic matter. Different representations of colimitation of decomposition by substrate and decomposers in SOM decomposition models resulted in qualitatively different long-term behaviour. A collaborative effort by modellers and experimentalists is required to identify formulations that are more or less suitable to represent the most important drivers of long term carbon storage.

Final-revised paper