Articles | Volume 8, issue 4
Biogeosciences, 8, 951–961, 2011

Special issue: Biotic interactions and biogeochemical processes in the soil...

Biogeosciences, 8, 951–961, 2011

Research article 19 Apr 2011

Research article | 19 Apr 2011

Amplification and dampening of soil respiration by changes in temperature variability

C. A. Sierra1,*, M. E. Harmon1, E. Thomann2, S. S. Perakis3, and H. W. Loescher4 C. A. Sierra et al.
  • 1Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97333, USA
  • 2Department of Mathematics, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97333, USA
  • 3US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Corvallis, Oregon 97333, USA
  • 4National Ecological Observatory Network, Boulder, Colorado 80301, USA
  • *now at: Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, 07745 Jena, Germany

Abstract. Accelerated release of carbon from soils is one of the most important feedbacks related to anthropogenically induced climate change. Studies addressing the mechanisms for soil carbon release through organic matter decomposition have focused on the effect of changes in the average temperature, with little attention to changes in temperature variability. Anthropogenic activities are likely to modify both the average state and the variability of the climatic system; therefore, the effects of future warming on decomposition should not only focus on trends in the average temperature, but also variability expressed as a change of the probability distribution of temperature. Using analytical and numerical analyses we tested common relationships between temperature and respiration and found that the variability of temperature plays an important role determining respiration rates of soil organic matter. Changes in temperature variability, without changes in the average temperature, can affect the amount of carbon released through respiration over the long-term. Furthermore, simultaneous changes in the average and variance of temperature can either amplify or dampen the release of carbon through soil respiration as climate regimes change. These effects depend on the degree of convexity of the relationship between temperature and respiration and the magnitude of the change in temperature variance. A potential consequence of this effect of variability would be higher respiration in regions where both the mean and variance of temperature are expected to increase, such as in some low latitude regions; and lower amounts of respiration where the average temperature is expected to increase and the variance to decrease, such as in northern high latitudes.

Final-revised paper