Kravchenko, A. N., W. C. Negassa, A. K. Guber, and M. L. Rivers. 2015. Protection of soil carbon within macro-aggregates depends on intra-aggregate pore characteristics. Scientific Reports 5:16261.
Soil contains almost twice as much carbon ( C ) as the atmosphere and 5–15% of soil C is stored in a form of particulate organic matter (POM). Particulate organic matter C is regarded as one of the most labile components of the soil C, such that can be easily lost under right environmental settings. Conceptually, micro-environmental conditions are understood to be responsible for protection of soil C. However, quantitative knowledge of the specific mechanisms driving micro-environmental effects is still lacking. Here we combined CO2 respiration measurements of intact soil samples with X-ray computed micro-tomography imaging and investigated how micro-environmental conditions, represented by soil pores, influence decomposition of POM. We found that atmosphere-connected soil pores influenced soil C’s, and especially POM’s, decomposition. In presence of such pores losses in POM were 3–15 times higher than in their absence. Moreover, we demonstrated the presence of a feed-forward relationship between soil C decomposition and pore connections that enhance it. Since soil hydrology and soil pores are likely to be affected by future climate changes, our findings indicate that not-accounting for the influence of soil pores can add another sizable source of uncertainty to estimates of future soil C losses.
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