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Rate of warming affects temperature sensitivity of anaerobic peat decomposition and greenhouse gas production

Sihi, Debjani, Inglett, Patrick W., Gerber, Stefan, Inglett, Kanika S.
Global change biology 2018 v.24 no.1 pp. e259
wetlands, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, mineralization, peat, methane production, monitoring, soil organic carbon, uncertainty, microbial physiology, acclimation, microbial biomass, methane, global warming, soil respiration, climate models, temperature, stable isotopes, wetland soils
Temperature sensitivity of anaerobic carbon mineralization in wetlands remains poorly represented in most climate models and is especially unconstrained for warmer subtropical and tropical systems which account for a large proportion of global methane emissions. Several studies of experimental warming have documented thermal acclimation of soil respiration involving adjustments in microbial physiology or carbon use efficiency (CUE), with an initial decline in CUE with warming followed by a partial recovery in CUE at a later stage. The variable CUE implies that the rate of warming may impact microbial acclimation and the rate of carbon‐dioxide (CO₂) and methane (CH₄) production. Here, we assessed the effects of warming rate on the decomposition of subtropical peats, by applying either a large single‐step (10°C within a day) or a slow ramping (0.1°C/day for 100 days) temperature increase. The extent of thermal acclimation was tested by monitoring CO₂ and CH₄ production, CUE, and microbial biomass. Total gaseous C loss, CUE, and MBC were greater in the slow (ramp) warming treatment. However, greater values of CH₄–C:CO₂–C ratios lead to a greater global warming potential in the fast (step) warming treatment. The effect of gradual warming on decomposition was more pronounced in recalcitrant and nutrient‐limited soils. Stable carbon isotopes of CH₄ and CO₂ further indicated the possibility of different carbon processing pathways under the contrasting warming rates. Different responses in fast vs. slow warming treatment combined with different endpoints may indicate alternate pathways with long‐term consequences. Incorporations of experimental results into organic matter decomposition models suggest that parameter uncertainties in CUE and CH₄–C:CO₂–C ratios have a larger impact on long‐term soil organic carbon and global warming potential than uncertainty in model structure, and shows that particular rates of warming are central to understand the response of wetland soils to global climate change.