Basal rates of soil respiration are correlated with photosynthesis in a mixed temperate forest


David Arthur Sampson, tel. +32 3 820 2255, fax +32 3 820 22.71, e-mail:


Many field studies have demonstrated that soil temperature explains most of the temporal variation in soil respiration (SR). However, there is increasing evidence to suggest that SR is also influenced by current, or recent, photosynthate. Accordingly, seasonal changes in SR nominally attributed to temperature may, in part, be due to seasonality in photosynthesis. Within a mixed coniferous–deciduous temperate forest, we measured SR and used the process model SECRETS to test whether seasonal changes in photosynthesis influence seasonal differences in SR. Measurements were made in six adjacent plots (from pure evergreen to pure deciduous) that exhibited a gradient in the seasonality of photosynthesis. Within all six plots, we found strong correlations between the basal rate of SR (BR; defined as the SR at 10°C) and modeled photosynthesis (i.e. gross primary productivity; GPP). Moreover, we observed larger seasonal changes in BR in those plots that exhibited larger seasonal changes in photosynthesis, as compared with plots with smaller changes in photosynthesis. This is relevant because estimates of the Q10 of SR (Q10 is the relative change in a process rate per temperature change of 10°C) typically assume a constant BR. Our results therefore support the hypothesis that differences in the apparent Q10 of SR (apparent Q10=Q10 derived from field measurements of SR and temperature) among studies may, in large part, be related to seasonal differences in photosynthesis. We suggest that variation in stand structure and species composition and, thus, in the photosynthetic signatures, induce different seasonal changes in BR via differences in the belowground supply of labile carbon. If these seasonal changes in BR are not properly accounted for, fitted apparent Q10 values may not express the temperature response of respiratory processes in the soil.