Soil Foodweb Inc.
Dr. Elaine Ingham

Some Current Bibliographic References on Decomposition

Zhang X, Wang W, Chen W, Zhang N, Zeng H (2014) Comparison of Seasonal Soil Microbial Process in Snow-Covered Temperate Ecosystems of Northern China. PloS one 9.3 (2014): e92985. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092985.   

More than half of the earth's terrestrial surface currently experiences seasonal snow cover and soil frost. Winter compositional and functional investigations in soil microbial community are frequently conducted in alpine tundra and boreal forest ecosystems. However, little information on winter microbial biogeochemistry is known from seasonally snow-covered temperate ecosystems. As decomposer microbes may differ in their ability/strategy to efficiently use soil organic carbon (SOC) within different phases of the year, understanding seasonal microbial process will increase our knowledge of biogeochemical cycling from the aspect of decomposition rates and corresponding nutrient dynamics. In this study, we measured soil microbial biomass, community composition and potential SOC mineralization rates in winter and summer, from six temperate ecosystems in northern China. Our results showed a clear pattern of increased microbial biomass C to nitrogen (N) ratio in most winter soils. Concurrently, a shift in soil microbial community composition occurred with higher fungal to bacterial biomass ratio and gram negative (G-) to gram positive (G+) bacterial biomass ratio in winter than in summer. Furthermore, potential SOC mineralization rate was higher in winter than in summer. Our study demonstrated a distinct transition of microbial community structure and function from winter to summer in temperate snow-covered ecosystems. Microbial N immobilization in winter may not be the major contributor for plant growth in the following spring.

For Article Click to the Right  Comparison of Seasonal Soil Microbial Process.pdf
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Shen H, Cao J, Zhang W, Zeng X, Wang H. (2014). Winter Soil CO2 Flux from Different Mid-Latitude Sites from Middle Taihang Mountain in North China. PLoS ONE 9(3): e91589. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091589.    


Winter soil respiration is a very important component of the annual soil carbon flux in some ecosystems. We hypothesized that, with all other factors being equal, shorter winter SR result in reduced contribution to annual soil C flux. In this study, the contribution of winter soil respiration to annual soil respiration was measured for three sites (grassland: dominated byArtemisia sacrorum, Bothriochloa ischaemum and Themeda japonica; shrubland: dominated byVitex negundo var. heterophylla; plantation: dominated by Populus tomatosa) in a mountainous area of north China. Diurnal and intra-annual soil CO2 flux patterns were consistent among different sites, with the maximum soil respiration rates at 12:00 or 14:00, and in July or August. The lowest respiration rates were seen in February. Mean soil respiration rates ranged from 0.26 to 0.45 µmol m−2 s−1 in the winter (December to February), and between 2.38 to 3.16 µmol m−2 s−1 during the growing season (May-September). The winter soil carbon flux was 24.6 to 42.8 g C m−2, which contributed 4.8 to 7.1% of the annual soil carbon flux. Based on exponential functions, soil temperature explained 73.8 to 91.8% of the within year variability in soil respiration rates. The Q10 values of SR against ST at 10 cm ranged from 3.60 to 4.90 among different sites. In addition, the equation between soil respiration and soil temperature for the growing season was used to calculate the “modeled” annual soil carbon flux based on the actual measured soil temperature. The “measured” annual value was significantly higher than the “modeled” annual value. Our results suggest that winter soil respiration plays a significant role in annual soil carbon balance, and should not be neglected when soil ecosystems are assessed as either sinks or sources of atmospheric CO2.

For Article Click to the Right  Winter Soil CO2 Flux.pdf
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ZongQiang, C., XiaoQing, L., Qi, F. ZongXI, C., HaiYang, X., YongHong, S., JianHua, S. (2013). Non-growing season soil CO2 efflux and its changes in an alpine meadow ecosystem of the Qilian Mountains, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, Vol. 5, Issue 4, pp. 488-499.


Most soil respiration measurements are conducted during the growing season. In tundra and boreal forest ecosystems, cumulative, non-growing season soil CO2 fluxes are reported to be a significant component of these systems’ annual carbon budgets. However, little information exists on soil CO2efflux during the non-growing season from alpine ecosystems. Therefore, comparing measurements of soil respiration taken annually versus during the growing season will improve the accuracy of estimating ecosystem carbon budgets, as well as predicting the response of soil CO2efflux to climate changes. In this study, we measured soilCO2 efflux and its spatial and temporal changes for different altitudes during the non-growing season in an alpine meadow located in the Qilian Mountains, Northwest China. Field experiments on the soil CO2 efflux of alpine meadow from the Qilian Mountains were conducted along an elevation gradient from October 2010 to April 2011. We measured the soil CO2 efflux, and analyzed the effects of soil water content and soil temperature on this measure. The results show that soil CO2 efflux gradually decreased along the elevation gradient during the non-growing season. The daily variation of soil CO2 efflux appeared as a single-peak curve. The soil CO2 efflux was low at night, with the lowest value occurring between 02:00–06:00. Then, values started to rise rapidly between 07:00–08:30, and then descend again between 16:00–18:30. The peak soil CO2 efflux appeared from 11:00 to 16:00. The soil CO2 efflux values gradually decreased from October to February of the next year and started to increase in March. Non-growing season Q10 (the multiplier to the respiration rate for a 10°C increase in temperature) was increased with raising altitude and average Q10 of the Qilian Mountains was generally higher than the average growing season Q10 of the Heihe River Basin. Seasonally, non-growing season soil CO2 efflux was relatively high in October and early spring and low in the winter. The soil CO2 efflux was positively correlated with soil temperature and soil water content. Our results indicate that in alpine ecosystems, soil CO2 efflux continues throughout the non-growing season, and soil respiration is an important component of annual soil CO2 efflux.

Preview of Article Click to Right   Non-growing season soil CO2 efflux.pdf
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Barry R. Taylor, H. Gerald Jones. (1990). Litter decomposition under snow cover in a balsam fir forest. Canadian Journal of Botany, 1990, 68(1): 112-120


In a subalpine balsam fir forest in Quebec, Canada, mass losses, respiration rates, and nitrogen and sulphur dynamics were measured on fir needles, birch leaves, lichens (mixed species), and small twigs decomposing under deep (> 1.5 m) winter snow for 6 months. Mass losses ranged from <6% (twigs) to 70% (lichens) and relative decomposition rates of needles and leaves were reversed from those expected at higher temperatures. Isolation of fir needles from direct contact with the snow did not affect decay rate, nor was decay accelerated by spring snowmelt. In siturespiration rates increased from about 1 mg CO2/(g∙day)) in February to 3–5 mg CO2/(g∙day)) in May, mostly because of rising temperatures. Summer respiration rates were much higher (> 6 mg CO2/(g∙day)). Nitrogen and suphur concentrations increased in all nonwoody litter over winter, but only birch leaves and some fir needles appeared to assimilate nutrients from the environment. Melting snow could easily have provided all of the nitrogen and sulphur taken up by decomposing litter. Decomposing lichens released 40 and 60%, respectively, of their initial nitrogen and sulphur contents. A literature review indicates mass losses from leaf litter decomposing under deep snow vary according to the proportion of labile material in the litter and usually constitute 40–60% of total first-year mass losses. Key words: decomposition, winter, balsam fir, snow.


S.K. Schmidt, D.A. Lipson. (2004). Microbial growth under the snow: Implications for nutrient and allelochemical availability in temperate soils. Plant and Soil, Vol. 259, Issue 1-2, pp. 1-7.


Recent work has shown that plant litter inputs fuel microbial growth in autumn and winter resulting in a large increase of microbial biomass under the snow pack in tundra soils. This winter-adapted microbial community can grow at low temperatures (−5 to 3 °C) and depletes the litter of easily degraded constituents, such as simple phenolic compounds, and immobilizes nitrogen. During snowmelt there is a die-off of this winter microbial community (due to starvation and intolerance to higher soil temperature) resulting in a release of nitrogen that can be utilized by plants and the summer microbial community. The summer microbial community can tolerate higher temperatures (5 to 20 °C) and utilizes mostly plant root exudates for growth. These yearly cycles of microbial growth dynamics have profound implications for both nutrient and alleochemical availability to plants. Firstly, these results show that release (from litter) and degradation of plant phenolic compounds (potential alleochemicals) occurs before plant growth commences in the spring. Secondly, nitrogen (N) immobilized by over-winter microbial growth is released back to the soil during and after snowmelt, thus becoming available to plants. Both of these results need to be incorporated in the design of experiments to explore plant-plant interactions. Many experiments in which chemicals (or fresh litter) are incorporated during plant growth do not reflect the fact that these two events are temporally uncoupled in many natural systems.

For Preview of Article Click to the Right  Microbial growth under the snow.pdf
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