Soil microbial biomass increases along elevational gradients in the tropics and subtropics but not elsewhere

Xianjin He, Enqing Hou, G. F. Veen, M. D.Farnon Ellwood, Paul Dijkstra, Xinghua Sui, Shuang Zhang, Dazhi Wen, Chengjin Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Aim: Our aim is to use elevational gradients to quantify the relationship between temperature and ecosystem functioning. Ecosystem functions such as decomposition, nutrient cycling and carbon storage are linked with the amount of microbial biomass in the soil. Previous studies have shown variable relationships between elevation and soil microbial biomass (SMB). Understanding the biological mechanisms linking SMB with elevational gradients will shed light on the environmental impacts of global warming. Location: Global. Time period: 2002–2018. Major taxa studied: Soil microbes. Method: We performed a global meta-analysis of the relationships between SMB and elevation. Data were collected from 59 studies of 73 elevational transects from around the world. Results: We found no consistent global relationship between SMB and elevation. SMB increased significantly with elevation in the tropics and subtropics, but not in other climate zones. However, we found consistent positive relationships between SMB, soil organic carbon and total nitrogen concentrations. Main conclusions: Our results suggest that global warming will impact tropical and subtropical ecosystems more severely than colder regions. Tropical ecosystems, already at risk from species extinctions, will likely experience declines in SMB as the climate warms, resulting in losses of fundamental ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling and carbon storage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-354
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • climate change
  • elevation
  • global warming
  • meta-analysis
  • soil microbial biomass
  • soil organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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