Soil carbon losses due to higher pH offset vegetation gains due to calcium enrichment in an acid mitigation experiment.
Reductions in acid precipitation across North America and Europe have been linked to substantial declines of soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks in temperate forests, but the mechanisms underlying these declines remain poorly understood. As forests recover from acid precipitation, soil pH and calcium fertility are both expected to increase, and these changes in soil chemistry may drive altered SOC dynamics. Here, we performed a year-long pot experiment on acid-impacted soils to test the independent and interactive effects of increased soil pH and Ca fertility on SOC solubility, microbial activity and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) sapling growth. We found that microbial respiration and SOC solubility was strongly stimulated by increased soil pH, but only in the presence of plants. In planted pots, a soil pH increase of 0.76 units increased soil respiration by 19% in the organic soil horizon and 38% in the mineral soil horizon, whereas in unplanted pots, soil pH had no effect on microbial respiration. While increased soil pH enhanced plant-mediated heterotrophic respiration, it had no effect on plant growth. By contrast, soil Ca enrichment increased the relative growth rate of plants by 22%, but had no impact on microbial respiration. Our results suggest that, in terms of ecosystem carbon balance, losses of SOC due to increasing soil pH may offset potential gains in primary productivity due to enhanced Ca fertility as ecosystems recover from acid precipitation.
Marinos, RE; Bernhardt, ES
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