Boreal-forest soil chemistry drives soil organic carbon bioreactivity along a 314-year fire chronosequence
Benjamin Andrieux, David Paré, Julien Beguin, Pierre Grondin, Yves Bergeron.
Following a wildfire, organic carbon (C) accumulates in boreal-forest soils. The long-term patterns of accumulation as well as the mechanisms responsible for continuous soil C stabilization or sequestration are poorly known. We evaluated post-fire C stock changes in functional reservoirs (bioreactive and recalcitrant) using the proportion of C mineralized in CO2 by microbes in a long-term lab incubation, as well as the proportion of C resistant to acid hydrolysis. We found that all soil C pools increased linearly with the time since fire. The bioreactive and acid-insoluble soil C pools increased at a rate of 0.02 and 0.12?MgC?ha?1?yr?1, respectively, and their proportions relative to total soil C stock remained constant with the time since fire (8?% and 46?%, respectively). We quantified direct and indirect causal relationships among variables and C bioreactivity to disentangle the relative contribution of climate, moss dominance, soil particle size distribution and soil chemical properties (pH, exchangeable manganese and aluminum, and metal oxides) to the variation structure of in vitro soil C bioreactivity. Our analyses showed that the chemical properties of podzolic soils that characterize the study area were the best predictors of soil C bioreactivity. For the O layer, pH and exchangeable manganese were the most important (model-averaged estimator for both of 0.34) factors directly related to soil organic C bioreactivity, followed by the time since fire (0.24), moss dominance (0.08), and climate and texture (0 for both). For the mineral soil, exchangeable aluminum was the most important factor (model-averaged estimator of ?0.32), followed by metal oxide (?0.27), pH (?0.25), the time since fire (0.05), climate and texture (?0 for both). Of the four climate factors examined in this study (i.e., mean annual temperature, growing degree-days above 5??C, mean annual precipitation and water balance) only those related to water availability – and not to temperature – had an indirect effect (O layer) or a marginal indirect effect (mineral soil) on soil C bioreactivity. Given that predictions of the impact of climate change on soil C balance are strongly linked to the size and the bioreactivity of soil C pools, our study stresses the need to include the direct effects of soil chemistry and the indirect effects of climate and soil texture on soil organic matter decomposition in Earth system models to forecast the response of boreal soils to global warming.