Soil organic matter dynamics in a North America tallgrass prairie after 9 yr of experimental warming

X. Cheng, Y. Luo, X. Xu, R. Sherry, Q. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


The influence of global warming on soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics in terrestrial ecosystems remains unclear. In this study, we combined soil fractionation with isotope analyses to examine SOM dynamics after nine years of experimental warming in a North America tallgrass prairie. Soil samples from the control plots and the warmed plots were separated into four aggregate sizes (>2000 μm, 250-2000 μm, 53-250 μm, and < > 53 μm), and three density fractions (free light fraction-LF, intra-aggregate particulate organic matter-iPOM, and mineral-associated organic matter-mSOM). All fractions were analyzed for their carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) content, and δ13°C and δ15N values. Warming did not significantly effect soil aggregate distribution and stability but increased C4-derived C input into all fractions with the greatest in LF. Warming also stimulated decay rates of C in whole soil and all aggregate sizes. C in LF turned over faster than that in iPOM in the warmed soils. The δ15N values of soil fractions were more enriched in the warmed soils than those in the control, indicating that warming accelerated loss of soil N. The δ15N values changed from low to high, while C:N ratios changed from high to low in the order LF, iPOM, and mSOM due to increased degree of decomposition and mineral association. Overall, warming increased the input of C4-derived C by 11.6 %, which was offset by the accelerated loss of soil C. Our results suggest that global warming simultaneously stimulates C input via shift in species composition and decomposition of SOM, resulting in negligible net change in soil C.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1487-1498
Number of pages12
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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