, Volume 119, Issue 1–3, pp 67–84 | Cite as

Soil carbon sensitivity to temperature and carbon use efficiency compared across microbial-ecosystem models of varying complexity

  • Jianwei LiEmail author
  • Gangsheng Wang
  • Steven D. Allison
  • Melanie A. Mayes
  • Yiqi Luo


Global ecosystem models may require microbial components to accurately predict feedbacks between climate warming and soil decomposition, but it is unclear what parameters and levels of complexity are ideal for scaling up to the globe. Here we conducted a model comparison using a conventional model with first-order decay and three microbial models of increasing complexity that simulate short- to long-term soil carbon dynamics. We focused on soil carbon responses to microbial carbon use efficiency (CUE) and temperature. Three scenarios were implemented in all models: constant CUE (held at 0.31), varied CUE (−0.016 °C−1), and 50 % acclimated CUE (−0.008 °C−1). Whereas the conventional model always showed soil carbon losses with increasing temperature, the microbial models each predicted a temperature threshold above which warming led to soil carbon gain. The location of this threshold depended on CUE scenario, with higher temperature thresholds under the acclimated and constant scenarios. This result suggests that the temperature sensitivity of CUE and the structure of the soil carbon model together regulate the long-term soil carbon response to warming. Equilibrium soil carbon stocks predicted by the microbial models were much less sensitive to changing inputs compared to the conventional model. Although many soil carbon dynamics were similar across microbial models, the most complex model showed less pronounced oscillations. Thus, adding model complexity (i.e. including enzyme pools) could improve the mechanistic representation of soil carbon dynamics during the transient phase in certain ecosystems. This study suggests that model structure and CUE parameterization should be carefully evaluated when scaling up microbial models to ecosystems and the globe.


Warming Soil organic matter decomposition First-order decay model Microbial-enzyme model Carbon use efficiency Temperature threshold 



We thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable and insightful comments. This research was funded by US National Science Foundation (NSF) grants DBI 0850290, EPS 0919466, DEB 0743778, DEB 0840964, EF 1137293, and EF 0928388 and was also funded in part by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) Program of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and by the U.S. Department of Energy Biological and Environmental Research program. ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle, LLC, for the U.S. Department of Energy under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725. Part of the model runs were performed at the Supercomputing Center for Education & Research (OSCER), University of Oklahoma. This manuscript has been authored by UT-Battelle, LLC, under Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the U.S. Department of Energy. The United States Government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that the United States Government retains a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce the published form of this manuscript, or allow others to do so, for United States Government purposes.

Supplementary material

10533_2013_9948_MOESM1_ESM.doc (347 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 347 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jianwei Li
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gangsheng Wang
    • 2
  • Steven D. Allison
    • 3
    • 4
  • Melanie A. Mayes
    • 2
  • Yiqi Luo
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Botany and MicrobiologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science InstituteOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  4. 4.Department of Earth System ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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