Long-term, amplified responses of soil organic carbon to nitrogen addition worldwide

Chonghua Xu, Xia Xu, Chenghui Ju, Han Y.H. Chen, Brian J. Wilsey, Yiqi Luo, Wei Fan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Soil organic carbon (SOC) is the largest carbon sink in terrestrial ecosystems and plays a critical role in mitigating climate change. Increasing reactive nitrogen (N) in ecosystems caused by anthropogenic N input substantially affects SOC dynamics. However, uncertainties remain concerning the effects of N addition on SOC in both organic and mineral soil layers over time at the global scale. Here, we analysed a large empirical data set spanning 60 years across 369 sites worldwide to explore the temporal dynamics of SOC to N addition. We found that N addition significantly increased SOC across the globe by 4.2% (2.7%–5.8%). SOC increases were amplified from short- to long-term N addition durations in both organic and mineral soil layers. The positive effects of N addition on SOC were independent of ecosystem types, mean annual temperature and precipitation. Our findings suggest that SOC increases largely resulted from the enhanced plant C input to soils coupled with reduced C loss from decomposition and amplification was associated with reduced microbial biomass and respiration under long-term N addition. Our study suggests that N addition will enhance SOC sequestration over time and contribute to future climate change mitigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1170-1180
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • carbon inputs
  • carbon sequestration
  • dissolved organic carbon
  • nitrogen addition
  • soil layer
  • soil organic carbon
  • soil respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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