Temperature adaptation of soil microbial respiration in alpine, boreal and tropical soils: An application of the square root (Ratkowsky) model

Jinquan Li, Erland Bååth, Junmin Pei, Changming Fang, Ming Nie

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2 Citations (SciVal)


Warming is expected to stimulate soil microbial respiration triggering a positive soil carbon-climate feedback loop while a consensus remains elusive regarding the magnitude of this feedback. This is partly due to our limited understanding of the temperature-adaptive response of soil microbial respiration, especially over broad climatic scales. We used the square root (Ratkowsky) model to calculate the minimum temperature for soil microbial respiration (Tmin, which describes the temperature adaptation of soil microbial respiration) of 298 soil samples from alpine grasslands on the Tibetan Plateau and forest ecosystems across China with a mean annual temperature (MAT) range from −6°C to +25°C. The instantaneous soil microbial respiration was determined between 4°C and 28°C. The square root model could well fit the temperature effect on soil microbial respiration for each individual soil, with R2 higher than 0.98 for all soils. Tmin ranged from −8.1°C to −0.1°C and increased linearly with increasing MAT (R2 = 0.68). MAT dominantly regulated Tmin variation when accounting simultaneously for multiple other drivers (mean annual precipitation, soil pH and carbon quality); an independent experiment showed that carbon availability had no significant effect on Tmin. Using the relationship between Tmin and MAT, soil microbial respiration after an increased MAT could be estimated, resulting in a relative increase in respiration with decreasing MAT. Thus, soil microbial respiration responses are adapted to long-term temperature differences in MAT. We suggest that Tmin = −5 + 0.2 × MAT, that is, every 1°C rise in MAT is estimated to increase Tmin of respiration by approximately 0.2°C, could be used as a first approximation to incorporate temperature adaptation of soil microbial respiration in model predictions. Our results can be used to predict future changes in the response of soil microbial respiration to temperature over different levels of warming and across broad geographic scales with different MAT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1281-1292
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
Early online date2020 Dec 8
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Microbiology


  • climate warming
  • soil respiration
  • square root model
  • T
  • temperature sensitivity
  • thermal adaptation


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