Understanding relationships between environmental changes and soil microbial respiration is critical for predicting changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) fluxes and content. The maritime Antarctic is experiencing one of the fastest rates of warming in the world and is therefore a key location to examine the effect of temperature on SOC mineralization by the respiration of soil micro-organisms. However, depletion of the labile substrates at higher temperatures relative to the total SOC and greater temperature sensitivity of recalcitrant components of the SOC confound simple interpretations of the effects of warming. We have addressed these issues by testing the hypothesis that respiration by heterotrophic soil micro-organisms is not down-regulated with increasing temperature by comparing the increase in biomass-specific respiration rate with temperature to the increase in respiration rate per unit SOC. We used five soils from the maritime Antarctic ranging in latitude and SOC content and measured the soil respiratory responses to temperatures ranging from 2 to 50 °C in laboratory incubations lasting up to 31 days. In all cases, soil respiration increased with temperature up to 50 °C, even though this exceeds the temperatures normally be experienced, indicating that the community contained sufficient physiological diversity to be able to respire over large temperature ranges. Both the biomass-specific respiration rate and the overall rate of SOC mineralization increased with temperature, which we interpret as respiration by soil micro-organisms not down-regulating relative to temperature.
- Carbon dioxide
- Soil organic matter