Do Microbes Matter? Using Global Data to Test Microbial Activity in Litter Decomposition Models

Principal Investigator(s): 


Annually, decomposition of plant litter and soil organic matter adds over ten times more CO2 to the atmosphere than fossil fuel and industrial sources. This, in combination with the dramatic rise in atmospheric CO2 since the industrial revolution, suggests that even small changes in decomposition rates could have large impacts on atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Despite this, decomposition remains poorly understood, a fact that is reflected in the large number of approaches currently used to model decomposition in ecosystem models. Although decomposition is carried out by litter and soil microbes, the activities and/or population dynamics of these microbes are seldom used to model decomposition. This research:

(1) aims to determine the relevance of incorporating microbial activity into decomposition models

(2) will compare a large number of new and published decomposition models to determine which model best describes decomposition

The results of this research will aid the ability of ecosystem models to accurately predict how decomposition (and ecosystems as a whole) will respond to ongoing and future climate change. 

More information about this research project.