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Partitioning sources of soil respiration in boreal black spruce forest using radiocarbon

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Schuur, E. A. G., & Trumbore, S. E. (2006). Partitioning sources of soil respiration in boreal black spruce forest using radiocarbon. Global Change Biology, 12(2), 165-176. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2005.01066.x.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0027-D0F6-C
Abstract
Separating ecosystem and soil respiration into autotrophic and heterotrophic component sources is necessary for understanding how the net ecosystem exchange of carbon (C) will respond to current and future changes in climate and vegetation. Here, we use an isotope mass balance method based on radiocarbon to partition respiration sources in three mature black spruce forest stands in Alaska. Radiocarbon (Delta(14)C) signatures of respired C reflect the age of substrate C and can be used to differentiate source pools within ecosystems. Recently-fixed C that fuels plant or microbial metabolism has Delta(14)C values close to that of current atmospheric CO2, while C respired from litter and soil organic matter decomposition will reflect the longer residence time of C in plant and soil C pools. Contrary to our expectations, the Delta(14)C of C respired by recently excised black spruce roots averaged 14 parts per thousand greater than expected for recently fixed photosynthetic products, indicating that some portion of the C fueling root metabolism was derived from C storage pools with turnover times of at least several years. The Delta(14)C values of C respired by heterotrophs in laboratory incubations of soil organic matter averaged 60 parts per thousand higher than the contemporary atmosphere Delta(14)CO(2), indicating that the major contributors to decomposition are derived from a combination of sources consistent with a mean residence time of up to a decade. Comparing autotrophic and heterotrophic Delta(14)C end members with measurements of the Delta(14)C of total soil respiration, we calculated that 47-63% of soil CO2 emissions were derived from heterotrophic respiration across all three sites. Our limited temporal sampling also observed no significant differences in the partitioning of soil respiration in the early season compared with the late season. Future work is needed to address the reasons for high Delta(14)C values in root respiration and issues of whether this method fully captures the contribution of rhizosphere respiration.