Microbial Models for Simulating Soil Carbon Dynamics: A Review

Aneesh Kumar Chandel, Lifen Jiang, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Soils store the largest amount of carbon (C) in the biosphere, and the C pool in soil is critical to the global C balance. Numerous microbial models have been developed over the last few decades to represent microbial processes that regulate the responses of soil organic carbon (SOC) to climate change. However, the representation of microbial processes varies, and how microbial processes are incorporated into SOC models has not been well explored. Here, we reviewed 71 microbial models to characterize the microbial processes incorporated into SOC models and analyzed variations in mechanistic complexity. We revealed that (a) four processes (microbial-mediated decomposition, mineral interaction, microbial necromass recycling, and active and dormant microbial dynamics) are commonly incorporated in microbial models, (b) ∼48% of models simulate only one microbial process (i.e., microbial-mediated decomposition) and 35% of models simulate two microbial processes: for example, microbial-mediated decomposition and mineral interaction, (c) more than 80% microbial models use nonlinear equations, such as forward Michaelis-Menten kinetics, to represent SOC decomposition, (d) the concept of persistence of SOC due to its intrinsic properties has been replaced by organo-mineral interaction (∼39% of microbial models) that protects SOC from decomposition, and (e) various temperature and moisture modifiers and pH effects have been used to explain the environmental effect on microbial processes. In the future, to realistically incorporate microbial processes into Earth System Models, it is imperative to identify experimental evidence on rate limitation processes and firmly ground model structure on the field and laboratory data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023JG007436
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • SOC decomposition
  • microbial mechanism
  • microbial model
  • microbial process
  • model structure
  • soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Palaeontology


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