Biodiversity, Nitrogen Deposition, and CO 2 Affect Grassland Soil Carbon Cycling but not Storage

Joseph P. Reid, E. Carol Adair, Sarah E. Hobbie, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Grasslands are globally widespread and capable of storing large amounts of carbon (C) in soils, and are generally experiencing increasing atmospheric CO 2, nitrogen (N) deposition, and biodiversity losses. To better understand whether grasslands will act as C sources or sinks in the future we measured microbial respiration in long-term laboratory incubations of soils collected from a grassland field experiment after 9 years of factorial treatment of atmospheric CO 2, N deposition, and plant species richness on a deep and uniformly sandy soil. We fit microbial soil respiration rates to three-pool models of soil C cycling to separate treatment effects on decomposition and pool sizes of fast, slow, and resistant C pools. Elevated CO 2 decreased the mean residence time (MRT) of slow C pools without affecting their pool size. Decreasing diversity reduced the size and MRT of fast C pools (comparing monocultures to plots planted with 16 species), but increased the slow pool MRT. N additions increased the size of the resistant pool. These effects of CO 2, N, and species-richness treatments were largely due to plant biomass differences between the treatments. We found no significant interactions among treatments. These results suggest that C sequestration in sandy grassland soils may not be strongly influenced by elevated CO 2 or species losses. However, high N deposition may increase the amount of resistant C in these grasslands, which could contribute to increased C sequestration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-590
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • C sequestration
  • FACE experiment
  • biodiversity
  • elevated CO
  • nitrogen deposition
  • soil C cycling


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