Plant and Soil

, Volume 338, Issue 1–2, pp 329–342 | Cite as

Short-term effects of rain on soil respiration in two New England forests

Regular Article


To gain new insights into the underlying mechanisms responsible for wetting-induced soil respiration, rain simulation field experiments were carried out in two temperate mixed-hardwood forests in New England (Great Mountain Forest and Harvard Forest). The rain-induced CO2 pulses were observed in both xeric and mesic soils. The pulse intensity was negatively correlated with the site moisture level and the pre-rain soil CO2 flux. At both forests, plots without O horizon responded to wetting with limited or even negative enhancement, confirming previous finding that the rain pulse was likely due to enhanced microbial consumption on substrates mainly of microbial origin. Our results show that the flux rain pulse was a reproducible phenomenon not limited to dry soils.


Birch effect Carbon cycling Precipitation Pulse dynamics Simulated wetting Soil moisture Soil respiration Great Mountain Forest Harvard Forest 


  1. Barford CC, Wofsy SC, Goulden ML, Munger JW, Pyle EH, Urbanski SP, Hutyra L, Saleska SR, Fitzjarrald D, Moore K (2001) Factors controlling long- and short-term sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in a mid-latitude forest. Science 294:1688–1691CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Birch HF (1958a) The effect of soil drying on humus decomposition and nitrogen availability. Plant Soil 10:9–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Birch HF (1958b) Further aspects of humus decomposition. Nature 182:1172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Borken W, Matzner E (2009) Reappraisal of drying and wetting effects on C and N mineralization and fluxes in soils. Glob Chang Biol 15:808–824CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Borken W, Xu Y-J, Brumme R, Lamersdorf N (1999) A climate change scenario for carbon dioxide and dissolved organic carbon fluxes from a temperate forest soil: drought and rewetting effects. Soil Sci Soc Am J 63:1848–1855CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borken W, Xu Y-J, Davidson EA, Beese F (2002) Site and temporal variation of soil respiration in European beach, Norway spruce and Scots pine forests. Glob Chang Biol 8:1205–1216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Borken W, Davidson EA, Savage K, Gaudinski J, Trumbore SE (2003) Drying and wetting effects on carbon dioxide release from organic horizons. Soil Sci Soc Am J 67:1888–1896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bowden RD, Nadelhoffer KJ, Boone RD, Melillo JM, Garrison JB (1993) Contributions of aboveground litter, belowground litter, and root respiration to total soil respiration in a temperature mixed hardwood forest. Can J For Res 23:1402–1407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cisneros-Dozal LM, Trumbore SE, Hanson PJ (2007) Effects of moisture on leaf litter decomposition and its contribution to soil respiration in a temperate forest. J Geophys Res-Biogeosciences 112:G01013. doi:10.1029/2006JG000197 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clein JS, Schimel JP (1994) Reduction of microbial activity in birch litter due to drying and rewetting event. Soil Biol Biochem 26:403–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cleveland CC, Nemergut DR, Schmidt SK, Townsend AR (2007) Increase in soil respiration following labile carbon additions linked to rapid shifts in soil microbial community composition. Biogeochemistry 82:229–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davidson EA, Janssens IA (2006) Temperature sensitivity of soil carbon decomposition and feedbacks to climate change. Nature 440(7081):165–173CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Davidson EA, Mason A, Vitousek PM (1993) Processes regulating soil emissions of NO and N2O in a seasonally dry tropical forest. Ecology 74:130–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davidson EA, Belk E, Boone RD (1998) Soil water content and temperature as independent or confounded factors controlling soil respiration in a temperate mixed hardwood forest. Glob Chang Biol 4:217–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Davidson EA, Verchot LV, Cattânio JH, Ackerman IL, Carvalho J (2000) Effects of soil water content on soil respiration in forests and cattle pastures of eastern Amazonia. Biogeochemistry 48:53–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davidson EA, Richardson AD, Savage KE, Hollinger DY (2006a) A distinct seasonal pattern of the ratio of soil respiration to total ecosystem respiration in a spruce-dominated forest. Glob Chang Biol 12:230–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Davidson EA, Janssens IA, Luo Y (2006b) On the variability of respiration in terrestrial ecosystems: moving beyond Q10. Glob Chang Biol 12:154–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Davidson EA, Savage KE, Trumbore SE, Borken W (2006c) Vertical partitioning of CO2 production within a temperate forest soil. Glob Chang Biol 12:944–956CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fierer N, Schimel JP (2002) Effects of drying-rewetting frequency on soil carbon and nitrogen transformations. Soil Biol Biochem 34:777–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fierer N, Schimel JP (2003) A proposed mechanism for the pulse in carbon dioxide production commonly observed following the rapid rewetting of a dry soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 67:798–805CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Franzluebbers AJ, Haney RL, Honeycutt CW, Schomberg HH, Hons FM (2000) Flush of carbon dioxide following rewetting of dried soil relates to active organic pools. Soil Sci Soc Am J 64:613–623CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gaudinski JB, Trumbore SE, Davidson EA, Zheng S (2000) Soil carbon cycling in a temperate forest: radiocarbon-based estimates of residence times, sequestration rates and partitioning of fluxes. Biogeochemistry 51:33–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goulden ML, Daube BC, Fan SM, Sutton DJ, Bazzaz A, Munger JW, Wofsy SC (1997) Physiological responses of a black spruce forest to weather. J Geophys Res-Atmospheres 102(D24):28987–28996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Griffiths E, Birch HF (1961) Microbiological changes in freshly moistened soil. Nature 189:424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Halverson LJ, Jones TM, Firestone MK (2000) Release of intracellular solutes by four soil bacteria exposed to dilution stress. Soil Sci Soc Am J 64:1630–1637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hanson PJ, Wullschlesger SD, Bohlman SA, Todd DE (1993) Seasonal and topographic patterns of forest floor CO2 efflux. Tree Physiol 13:1–15PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Högberg P, Nordgren A, Buchmann N, Taylor AFS, Ekblad A, Hӧgberg MN, Nyberg G, Ottosson-Lofvenius M, Read DJ (2001) Large-scale forest girdling shows that current photosynthesis drives soil respiration. Nature 411:789–792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howard DM, Howard PJA (1993) Relationship between CO2 evolution, moisture content and temperature for a range of soil types. Soil Biol Biochem 25:1537–1546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Huxman TE, Cable JM, Ignace DD, Eits JA, Englaish NB, Weltzin J, Williams DG (2004) Response of net ecosystem gas exchange to a simulated precipitation pulse in a semiarid grassland: the role of native versus non-native grasses and soil texture. Oecologia 141:295–305PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Inglima I, Alberti G, Bertolini T, Vaccari FP, Gioli B, Miglietta F, Cotrufo MF, Peressotti A (2009) Precipitation pulses enhance respiration of Mediterranean ecosystems: the balance between organic and inorganic components of increased soil CO2 efflux. Glob Chang Biol 155:1289–1301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ivans CY, Leffler AJ, Spaulding U, Stark JM, Ryel RJ, Caldwell MM (2003) Root responses and nitrogen acquisition by Artemisia tridentate and Agropyron desertorum following small summer rainfall events. Oecologia 134:317–324PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Janssens IA, Lankreijer H, Matteucci G, Kowalski AS, Buchmann N, Epron D, Pilegaard K, Kutsch W, Longdoz B, Grunwald T, Montagnani L, Dore S, Rebmann C, Moors EJ, Grelle A, Rannik U, Morgenstern K, Oltchev S, Clement R, Gudmundsson J, Minerbi S, Berbigier P, Ibrom A, Moncrieff J, Aubinet M, Bernhofer C, Jensen NO, Vesala T, Granier A, Schulze ED, Lindroth A, Dolman AJ, Jarvis PG, Ceulemans R, Valentini R (2001) Productivity overshadows temperature in determining soil and ecosystem respiration across European forests. Glob Chang Biol 7:269–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jarvis P, Rey A, Petsikos C, Wingate L, Rayment M, Pereira J, Banza J, David J, Miglietta F, Borghetti M, Manca G, Valentini R (2007) Drying and wetting of Mediterranean soils stimulates decomposition and carbon dioxide emission: the “Birch Effect”. Tree Physiol 27:292–940Google Scholar
  34. Kelliher FM, Lloyd J, Arneth A, Lühker B, Byers JN, McSeveny TM, Milukova I, Grigoriev S, Panfyorov M, Sogatchev A, Varlargin A, Ziegler W, Bauer G, Wong S-C, Schulze E-D (1999) Carbon dioxide efflux density from the floor of central Siberian pine forest. Agric For Meteorol 94:217–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kieft TL, Soroker E, Firestone MK (1987) Microbial biomass response to a rapid increase in water potential when dry soil is wetted. Soil Biol Biochem 19:119–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Law BE, Ryan MG, Anthoni PM (1999) Seasonal and annual respiration of a Ponderosa pine ecosystem. Glob Chang Biol 5:169–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lee M-S, Nakane K, Nakatsubo T, Mo W-H, Koizumi H (2002) Effects of rainfall events on soil CO2 flux in a cool temperate deciduous broad-leaved forest. Ecol Res 17:401–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lee X, Wu H-J, Sigler J, Oishi C, Siccama T (2004) Rapid and transient response of soil respiration to rain. Glob Chang Biol 10:1017–1026CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Linn DM, Doran JW (1984) Effect of water-willed pore space on carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide production in tilled and nontilled soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 48:1267–1272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Liu XZ, Wan SQ, Su B, Hui DF, Luo YQ (2002) Response of soil CO2 efflux to water manipulation in a tallgrass prairie ecosystem. Plant Soil 240:213–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Longdoz B, Yernaux M, Aubinet M (2000) Soil CO2 efflux measurements in a mixed forest: impact of chamber disturbances, spatial variability and seasonal evolution. Glob Chang Biol 6:907–917CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lovieno P, Bååth E (2008) Effect of drying and rewetting on bacterial growth rates in soil. FEMS Microbial Ecol 65:400–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Melillo JM, Steudler PA, Aber JD, Newkirk K, Lux H, Bowles FP, Catricala C, Magill A, Ahrens T, Morrisseau S (2002) Soil warming and carbon-cycle feedbacks to the climate system. Science 298:2173–2176CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Orchard VA, Cook FJ (1983) Relation between soil respiration and soil moisture content. Soil Biol Biochem 15:447–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Palmroth S, Matier CA, McCarthy HR, Oishi AC, Kim H-S, Johnsen KH, Katul GG, Oren R (2005) Contrasting responses to drought of forest floor CO2 efflux in a Loblolly pine plantation and a nearby Oak-Hickory forest. Glob Chang Biol 11:421–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Qi Y, Xu M (2001) Separating the effects of moisture and temperature on soil CO2 efflux in a coniferous forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Plant Soil 237:15–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Reth S, Reichstein M, Falge E (2005) The effect of soil moisture content, soil temperature, soil pH-value and root mass on soil CO2 efflux — a modified model. Plant Soil 268:21–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rey A, Pegoraro EP, Tedeschi V, Parri ID, Jarvis PG, Valentini R (2002) Annual variation in soil respiration and its components in a coppice oak forest in Central Italy. Glob Chang Biol 8:851–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rey A, Petsikos C, Jarvis PG, Grace J (2005) Effect of temperature and moisture on rates of carbon mineralization in a Mediterranean oak forest soil under controlled and field conditions. Eur J Soil Sci 56:589–599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Saetre P, Stark JM (2005) Microbial dynamics and carbon and nitrogen cycling following re-wetting of soils beneath two semi-arid plant species. Oecologia 142:247–260CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Sampson DA, Janssens IA, Yuste JC, Ceulemans R (2007) Basal rates of soil respiration are correlated with photosynthesis in a mixed temperate forest. Glob Chang Biol 13:2008–2017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Savage KE, Davidson EA (2001) Interannual variation of soil respiration in two New England forests. Glob Chang Biol 15:337–350Google Scholar
  53. Savage K, Davidson EA, Richardson AD, Hollinger DY (2009) Three scales of temporal resolution from automated soil respiration measurements. Agric For Meteorol 149:2012–2021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schimel JP, Gulledge JM, Clein-Curley JS, Lindstrom JE, Braddock JF (1999) Moisture effects on microbial activity and community structure in decomposing birch litter in the Alaskan taiga. Soil Biol Biochem 31:831–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Skopp J, Jawson MD, Doran DW (1990) Steady-state aerobic microbial activity as a function of soil-water content. Soil Sci Soc Am J 54:1619–1625CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sponseller RA (2007) Precipitation pulses and soil CO2 flux in a Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Glob Chang Biol 13:426–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Taylor BR, Parkinson D (1988) Does repeated wetting and drying accelerate decay of leaf litter. Soil Biol Biochem 20:647–656CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Unger S, Santos-Pereira J, Máguas C, Werner C (2010) The Birch effect controls δ13CR and δ13CSoil after rewetting of dry soils in a Mediterranean forest. Oecologia 163(4):1043–1057Google Scholar
  59. Van Gestel M, Ladd JN, Amato M (1991) Carbon and nitrogen mineralization from 2 soils of contrasting texture and microaggregate stability: influence of sequential fumigation, drying and storage. Soil Biol Biochem 23:313–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Van Gestel M, Merckx R, Vlassak K (1993) Soil drying and rewetting and the turnover of C-14-labelled plant residues — 1st order decay rates of biomass and non-biomass 14C. Soil Biol Biochem 25:125–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wofsy SC, Goulden ML, Munger JW, Fan S-M, Bakwin PS, Daube BC, Bassow SL, Bazzaz FA (1993) Net exchange of CO2 in a mid-latitude forest. Science 260:1314–1317CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Wu H-J (2010) Wetting induced soil carbon dioxide pulses in temperate forests and in agricultural fields. PhD Dissertation, Yale University (available at
  63. Wu J, Brooks PC (2005) The proportional mineralization of microbial biomass and organic matter caused by air-drying and rewetting of a grassland soil. Soil Biol Biochem 37:507–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wu H-J, Lee X (2010) Effects of wetting on soil respiration in Nebraska Cropland. Manuscript in preparationGoogle Scholar
  65. Xiang SR, Doyle A, Holden PA, Schimel JP (2008) Drying and rewetting effects on C and N mineralization and microbial activity in surface and subsurface California grassland soils. Soil Biol Biochem 40:2281–2289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Xu L, Baldocchi DD, Tang J (2004) How soil moisture, rain pulses, and growth alter the response of ecosystem respiration to temperature. Glob Biogeochem Cycles 18:GB4002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Yuste JC, Janssens IA, Carrara A, Meiresonne L, Ceulemans R (2003) Interactive effects of temperature and precipitation on soil respiration in a temperate maritime pine forest. Tree Physiol 23:1263–1270Google Scholar
  68. Yuste JC, Nagy M, Janssens IA, Carrara A, Ceulemans R (2005) Soil respiration in a mixed temperate forest and its contribution to total ecosystem respiration. Tree Physiol 25:609–619Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forestry & Environmental StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations