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Microbial contributions to climate change through carbon cycle feedbacks

Richard D Bardgett, Chris Freeman, Nicholas J Ostle
ISME Journal 2008, 2 (8): 805-14
18615117
There is considerable interest in understanding the biological mechanisms that regulate carbon exchanges between the land and atmosphere, and how these exchanges respond to climate change. An understanding of soil microbial ecology is central to our ability to assess terrestrial carbon cycle-climate feedbacks, but the complexity of the soil microbial community and the many ways that it can be affected by climate and other global changes hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions on this topic. In this paper, we argue that to understand the potential negative and positive contributions of soil microbes to land-atmosphere carbon exchange and global warming requires explicit consideration of both direct and indirect impacts of climate change on microorganisms. Moreover, we argue that this requires consideration of complex interactions and feedbacks that occur between microbes, plants and their physical environment in the context of climate change, and the influence of other global changes which have the capacity to amplify climate-driven effects on soil microbes. Overall, we emphasize the urgent need for greater understanding of how soil microbial ecology contributes to land-atmosphere carbon exchange in the context of climate change, and identify some challenges for the future. In particular, we highlight the need for a multifactor experimental approach to understand how soil microbes and their activities respond to climate change and consequences for carbon cycle feedbacks.

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