Elevated moisture stimulates carbon loss from mineral soils by releasing protected organic matter

Moisture response functions for soil microbial carbon (C) mineralization remain a critical uncertainty for predicting ecosystem-climate feedbacks. Theory and models posit that C mineralization declines under elevated moisture and associated anaerobic conditions, leading to soil C accumulation. Yet, iron (Fe) reduction potentially releases protected C, providing an under-appreciated mechanism for C destabilization under elevated moisture. Here we incubate Mollisols from ecosystems under C3/C4 plant rotations at moisture levels at and above field capacity over 5 months. Increased moisture and anaerobiosis initially suppress soil C mineralization, consistent with theory. However, after 25 days, elevated moisture stimulates cumulative gaseous C-loss as CO2 and CH4 to >150% of the control.

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