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Impacts of plant roots on soil CO cycling and soil–atmosphere CO exchange


Gary M. King, tel. 207 563 3146 ext. 207, fax 207 563 3119, e-mail:


Carbon monoxide (CO) plays a major role in tropospheric chemical dynamics. Accordingly, global CO budgets have been reasonably well documented. Atmospheric CO consumption by soils contributes significantly to these budgets, with the magnitude of the sink generally considered to reflect a balance between microbial uptake and abiological production. However, assays of live fine roots showed that diverse intact plants produced carbon monoxide at net rates ranging from 2 to 3000 mµg gdw−−1 d−−1. CO production was greater for legumes than nonlegumes, and primarily associated with nodules. Excised roots from woody and herbaceous plants produced CO at comparable rates. CO production rates were similar for roots of intact plants and roots excised from those plants. The magnitude of net CO fluxes from roots was determined in part by the balance between simultaneous production and consumption. Surface sterilization of roots indicated that CO consumption was due, in part, rhizoplane CO-oxidizing bacteria, but maximum CO consumption rates were typically only a small fraction of net production rates. Assays in a Brazilian agroecosystem indicated that root CO production affects soil–atmosphere CO exchange. Estimates of global CO production rates indicated that roots contribute about 170–260 Tg CO to the soil atmosphere annually, an amount comparable to current estimates of atmospheric CO uptake by soils, and much larger than estimates of net abiological soil CO production.