Recent empirical and theoretical advances inform us about multiple drivers of soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition and microbial responses to warming. Absent from our conceptual framework of how soil respiration will respond to warming are adequate links between microbial resource demands, kinetic theory, and substrate stoichiometry. Here, we describe two important concepts either insufficiently explored in current investigations of SOM responses to temperature, or not yet addressed. First, we describe the complete range of responses for how warming may change microbial resource demands, physiology, community structure, and total biomass. Second, we describe how any relationship between SOM activation energy of decay and carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stoichiometry can alter the relative availability of C and N as temperature changes. Changing availabilities of C and N liberated from their organic precursors can feedback to microbial resource demands, which in turn influence the aggregated respiratory response to temperature we observe. An unsuspecting biogeochemist focused primarily on temperature sensitivity of substrate decay thus cannot make accurate projections of heterotrophic CO2 losses from diverse organic matter reservoirs in a warming world. We establish the linkages between enzyme kinetics, SOM characteristics, and potential for microbial adaptation critical for making such projections. By examining how changing microbial needs interact with inherent SOM structure and composition, and thus reactivity, we demonstrate the means by which increasing temperature could result in increasing, unchanging, or even decreasing respiration rates observed in soils. We use this exercise to highlight ideas for future research that will develop our abilities to predict SOM feedbacks to climate.
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