Soil respiration is the sum of respiration processes in the soil and is a major flux in the global carbon cycle. It is usually assumed that the CO<inf>2</inf> efflux is equal to the soil respiration rate. Here we challenge this assumption by combining measurements of CO<inf>2</inf> with high-precision measurements of O2. These measurements were conducted on different ecosystems and soil types and included measurements of air samples taken from the soil profile of three Mediterranean sites: a temperate forest and two alpine forests. Root-free soils from the alpine sites were also incubated in the lab. We found that the ratio between the CO<inf>2</inf> efflux and the O<inf>2</inf> influx (defined as apparent respiratory quotient, ARQ) was in the range of 0.14 to 1.23 and considerably deviated from the value of 0.9 ± 0.1 expected from the elemental composition of average plants and soil organic matter. At the Mediterranean sites, these deviations are explained as a result of CO<inf>2</inf> dissolution in the soil water and transformation to bicarbonate ions in these high-pH soils, as well as by carbonate mineral dissolution and precipitation processes. Thus, a correct estimate of the short-term, chamber-based biological respiratory flux in such soils can only be made by dividing the measured soil CO<inf>2</inf> efflux by the average (efflux-weighted) soil profile ARQ. Applying this approach to a semiarid pine forest resulted in an estimated short-term biological respiration rate that is 3.8 times higher than the chamber-measured surface CO<inf>2</inf>. The ARQ values often observed in the more acidic soils were unexpectedly low (< 0.7). These values probably result from the oxidation of reduced iron, which has been formed previously during times of high soil moisture and local anaerobic conditions inside soil aggregates. The results reported here provide direct quantitative evidence of a large temporal decoupling between soil-gas exchange fluxes and biological soil respiration.
Angert, A., Yakir, D., Rodeghiero, M., Preisler, Y., Davidson, E. A., & Weiner, T. (2015). Using O<inf>2</inf> to study the relationships between soil CO<inf>2</inf> efflux and soil respiration. Biogeosciences, 12(7), 2089–2099. https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-12-2089-2015