Soil respiration is essential for carbon dioxide (CO2) to return to the Earth’s atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, high or low quantities of CO2 can create dangerous outcomes because it controls the Earth’s temperature. Large quantities of CO2 would cause the earth to heat up whereas low quantities would cause temperatures to drop drastically (Schlesinger and Andrews, 2000). The carbon cycle is the intake of CO2 by photosynthesis and the release of it by respiration (Vitousek et al. 1997). Once the cycle is altered naturally or by human activities vegetation is disturbed.
Soil is found all around the world but Tanner et al. (2016) placed focus on the Panama rainforest. They conducted a study on 15 plots of soil of which three groups were studied; additional litter, low amounts of litter, and a control group. The experiment took 6 years for natural litter accumulation to occur by leaves, soil, twigs, and dead plants. Measurements of the nutrients and carbon levels in the soil revealed that with an increase of atmospheric CO2 there was an increase in soil carbon and nutrients in the additional litter plots only. This meant the soil respiration caused by these plots would return more CO2 into the atmosphere. However Tanner et al. (2016) reported that the CO2 returned to the atmosphere would be very minimal because they had manipulated the additional litter plots by placing excess litter in them.
Although the findings do not show drastic changes in the atmospheric CO2 it demonstrated how the carbon cycle could influence the future of soil respiration. Litter accumulation could increase with forest fires, hurricanes, or even rain storms. The carbon cycle may also be disturbed by human activity such as settlement, burning litter, and deforestation. It’s important to remember that over the next 50 years many things could change causing an increase of CO2 thus increasing the temperature and altering vegetation.
1. Schlesinger W.H., and Andrews J.A. 2000. Soil respiration and the global carbon cycle. Biogeochemistry. 48:7-20.
2. Tanner E.V., Sheldrake M.W., and Turner L.B. 2016. Changes in soil carbon and nutrients following 6 years of litter. Biogeosciences. 13: 6183-6190.
3. Vitousek P.M., Mooney H.A., Lubchenco J., and Melillo J.M. 1997. Science. 277: 494-499.