The influence of rainstorm on soil respiration of a mixed forest in southern New England, USA was investigated with eddy covariance, rain simulation and laboratory incubation. Soil respiration is shown to respond rapidly and instantaneously to the onset of rain and return to the prerain rate shortly after the rain stops. The pulse-like flux, most likely caused by the decomposition of active carbon compounds in the litter layer, can amount to a loss of 0.18 t C ha−1 to the atmosphere in a single intensive storm, or 5–10% of the annual net ecosystem production of midlatitude forests. If precipitation becomes more variable in a future warmer world, the rain pulse should play an important part in the transient response of the ecosystem carbon balance to climate, particularly for ecosystems on ridge-tops with rapid water drainage.
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