Plant and Soil

, Volume 443, Issue 1–2, pp 463–471 | Cite as

Priming of soil organic carbon decomposition induced by exogenous organic carbon input: a meta-analysis

  • Zhaolin Sun
  • Shengen Liu
  • Tianan Zhang
  • Xuechao Zhao
  • Shi Chen
  • Qingkui WangEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aims

Priming effect (PE) of soil organic carbon (SOC) decomposition induced by exogenous organic C is an important ecological process in regulating the soil C cycle. The objective of this study was to evaluate how the PE varied among different ecosystems at the global scale and explore factors that drive the direction and magnitude of the PE.


Using 2048 experimental comparisons compiled from 94 incubation studies with stable (13C) or radioactive (14C) carbon isotopic techniques, we performed a meta-analysis on the effect of exogenous organic C input on native SOC decomposition (i.e., PE) across multiple terrestrial ecosystems. In particular, the linear mixed-effect model was used to examine the relationship between the PE and potential influencing factors.


The addition of exogenous organic C significantly enhanced native SOC decomposition by 47.5% (i.e., positive PE), with the highest value in cropland soils (60.9%) and the lowest value in forest soils (26.2%). The intensity of the PE decreased with increasing SOC content, soil total nitrogen content, soil C/N, incubation duration, and incubation temperature, but increased with increasing exogenous organic C addition rate and soil pH. Soil PE was not affected by the complexity of exogenous organic C.


Our results indicate that positive PE is a widespread phenomenon in terrestrial ecosystems, and that the magnitude is closely related to soil properties and experimental conditions. These findings may be useful for understanding soil C priming and the effect on soil C balance under climate change scenarios.


Soil organic carbon decomposition Priming effect Carbon turnover Soil property Incubation condition 



This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant No. 31830015, 31570466), the National Key R&D Program of China (grant no. 2016YFA0600801), and the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant No. XDB15010301). We thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions to improve the quality of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4240_MOESM1_ESM.csv (325 kb)
ESM 1 (CSV 325 kb)
11104_2019_4240_MOESM2_ESM.docx (370 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 370 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhaolin Sun
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shengen Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tianan Zhang
    • 3
  • Xuechao Zhao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shi Chen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Qingkui Wang
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and ManagementInstitute of Applied EcologyShenyangChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Co-Innovation Center for Sustainable Forestry in Southern China, College of Biology and the EnvironmentNanjing Forestry UniversityNanjingPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Huitong Experimental Station of Forest EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesHuitongChina

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