• Carbon cycling;
  • carbon storage;
  • carbon;
  • nitrogen coupling;
  • energy limitation;
  • microbial competition;
  • nutrient impact;
  • priming effect;
  • soil ecosystem functioning


It is commonly predicted that the intensity of primary production and soil carbon (C) content are positively linked. Paradoxically, many long-term field observations show that although plant litter is incorporated to soil in large quantities, soil C content does not necessarily increase. These results suggest that a negative relationship between C input and soil C conservation exists. Here, we demonstrate in controlled conditions that the supply of fresh C may accelerate the decomposition of soil C and induce a negative C balance. We show that soil C losses increase when soil microbes are nutrient limited. Results highlight the need for a better understanding of microbial mechanisms involved in the complex relationship between C input and soil C sequestration. We conclude that energy available to soil microbes and microbial competition are important determinants of soil C decomposition.