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Temperature and vegetation effects on soil organic carbon quality along a forested mean annual temperature gradient in North America


and present address: Cinzia Fissore, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, University of Minnesota, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, St Paul, MN 55108, tel. +612 625 3125, fax +612 625 2208, email:


Both climate and plant species are hypothesized to influence soil organic carbon (SOC) quality, but accurate prediction of how SOC process rates respond to global change will require an improved understanding of how SOC quality varies with mean annual temperature (MAT) and forest type. We investigated SOC quality in paired hardwood and pine stands growing in coarse textured soils located along a 22 °C gradient in MAT. To do this, we conducted 80-day incubation experiments at 10 and 30 °C to quantify SOC decomposition rates, which we used to kinetically define SOC quality. We used these experiments to test the hypotheses that SOC quality decreases with MAT, and that SOC quality is higher under pine than hardwood tree species. We found that both SOC quantity and quality decreased with increasing MAT. During the 30 °C incubation, temperature sensitivity (Q10) values were strongly and positively related to SOC decomposition rates, indicating that substrate supply can influence temperature responsiveness of SOC decomposition rates. For a limited number of dates, Q10 was negatively related to MAT. Soil chemical properties could not explain observed patterns in soil quality. Soil pH and cation exchange capacity (CEC) both declined with increasing MAT, and soil C quality was positively related to pH but negatively related to CEC. Clay mineralogy of soils also could not explain patterns of SOC quality as complex (2 : 1), high CEC clay minerals occurred in cold climate soils while warm climate soils were dominated by simpler (1 : 1), low CEC clay minerals. While hardwood sites contained more SOC than pine sites, with differences declining with MAT, clay content was also higher in hardwood soils. In contrast, there was no difference in SOC quality between pine and hardwood soils. Overall, these findings indicate that SOC quantity and quality may both decrease in response to global warming, despite long-term changes in soil chemistry and mineralogy that favor decomposition.