Increasing use of automated soil respiration chambers in recent years has demonstrated complex diel relationships between soil respiration and temperature that are not apparent from less frequent measurements. Soil surface flux is often lagged from soil temperature by several hours, which results in semielliptical hysteresis loops when surface flux is plotted as a function of soil temperature. Both biological and physical explanations have been suggested for hysteresis patterns, and there is currently no consensus on their causes or how such data should be analyzed to interpret the sensitivity of respiration to temperature. We used a one-dimensional soil CO2 and heat transport model based on physical first principles to demonstrate a theoretical basis for lags between surface flux and soil temperatures. Using numerical simulations, we demonstrated that diel phase lags between surface flux and soil temperature can result from heat and CO2 transport processes alone. While factors other than temperature that vary on a diel basis, such as carbon substrate supply and atmospheric CO2 concentration, can additionally alter lag times and hysteresis patterns to varying degrees, physical transport processes alone are sufficient to create hysteresis. Therefore, the existence of hysteresis does not necessarily indicate soil respiration is influenced by photosynthetic carbon supply. We also demonstrated how lags can cause errors in Q10 values calculated from regressions of surface flux and soil temperature measured at a single depth. Furthermore, synchronizing surface flux and soil temperature to account for transport-related lags generally does not improve Q10 estimation. In order to calculate the sensitivity of soil respiration to temperature, we suggest using approaches that account for the gradients in temperature and production existing within the soil. We conclude that consideration of heat and CO2 transport processes is a requirement to correctly interpret diel soil respiration patterns.
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