Soil carbon loss with warming: New evidence from carbon-degrading enzymes

Ji Chen, Lars Elsgaard, Kees Jan van Groenigen, Jørgen E. Olesen, Zhi Liang, Yu Jiang, Poul E. Lærke, Yuefang Zhang, Yiqi Luo, Bruce A. Hungate, Robert L. Sinsabaugh, Uffe Jørgensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Climate warming affects soil carbon (C) dynamics, with possible serious consequences for soil C stocks and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. However, the mechanisms underlying changes in soil C storage are not well understood, hampering long-term predictions of climate C-feedbacks. The activity of the extracellular enzymes ligninase and cellulase can be used to track changes in the predominant C sources of soil microbes and can thus provide mechanistic insights into soil C loss pathways. Here we show, using meta-analysis, that reductions in soil C stocks with warming are associated with increased ratios of ligninase to cellulase activity. Furthermore, whereas long-term (≥5 years) warming reduced the soil recalcitrant C pool by 14%, short-term warming had no significant effect. Together, these results suggest that warming stimulates microbial utilization of recalcitrant C pools, possibly exacerbating long-term climate-C feedbacks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1944-1952
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • climate-carbon feedback
  • experimental warming
  • extracellular enzyme
  • labile carbon pool
  • recalcitrant carbon pool
  • soil carbon storage
  • soil microorganism
  • warming duration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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