• litter and SOM decomposition;
  • Mediterranean oak forest;
  • root respiration;
  • soil moisture and soil temperature;
  • soil respiration


In order to investigate the annual variation of soil respiration and its components in relation to seasonal changes in soil temperature and soil moisture in a Mediterranean mixed oak forest ecosystem, we set up a series of experimental treatments in May 1999 where litter (no litter), roots (no roots, by trenching) or both were excluded from plots of 4 m2. Subsequently, we measured soil respiration, soil temperature and soil moisture in each plot over a year after the forest was coppiced. The treatments did not significantly affect soil temperature or soil moisture measured over 0–10 cm depth.

Soil respiration varied markedly during the year with high rates in spring and autumn and low rates in summer, coinciding with summer drought, and in winter, with the lowest temperatures. Very high respiration rates, however, were observed during the summer immediately after rainfall events. The mean annual rate of soil respiration was 2.9 µmol m−2 s−1, ranging from 1.35 to 7.03 µmol m−2 s−1.

Soil respiration was highly correlated with temperature during winter and during spring and autumn whenever volumetric soil water content was above 20%. Below this threshold value, there was no correlation between soil respiration and soil temperature, but soil moisture was a good predictor of soil respiration. A simple empirical model that predicted soil respiration during the year, using both soil temperature and soil moisture accounted for more than 91% of the observed annual variation in soil respiration.

All the components of soil respiration followed a similar seasonal trend and were affected by summer drought. The Q10 value for soil respiration was 2.32, which is in agreement with other studies in forest ecosystems. However, we found a Q10 value for root respiration of 2.20, which is lower than recent values reported for forest sites. The fact that the seasonal variation in root growth with temperature in Mediterranean ecosystems differs from that in temperate regions may explain this difference. In temperate regions, increases in size of root populations during the growing season, coinciding with high temperatures, may yield higher apparent Q10 values than in Mediterranean regions where root growth is suppressed by summer drought.

The decomposition of organic matter and belowground litter were the major components of soil respiration, accounting for almost 55% of the total soil respiration flux. This proportion is higher than has been reported for mature boreal and temperate forest and is probably the result of a short-term C loss following recent logging at the site.

The relationship proposed for soil respiration with soil temperature and soil moisture is useful for understanding and predicting potential changes in Mediterranean forest ecosystems in response to forest management and climate change.