Author: Shiping Chen, et. al. | Published: April 16, 2018
Soil carbon sequestration plays an important role in mitigating anthropogenic increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Recent studies have shown that biodiversity increases soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in experimental grasslands. However, the effects of species diversity on SOC storage in natural ecosystems have rarely been studied, and the potential mechanisms are yet to be understood. The results presented here show that favorable climate conditions, particularly high precipitation, tend to increase both species richness and belowground biomass, which had a consistent positive effect on SOC storage in forests, shrublands, and grasslands. Nitrogen deposition and soil pH generally have a direct negative effect on SOC storage. Ecosystem management that maintains high levels of plant diversity can enhance SOC storage and other ecosystem services that depend on plant diversity.
Despite evidence from experimental grasslands that plant diversity increases biomass production and soil organic carbon (SOC) storage, it remains unclear whether this is true in natural ecosystems, especially under climatic variations and human disturbances. Based on field observations from 6,098 forest, shrubland, and grassland sites across China and predictions from an integrative model combining multiple theories, we systematically examined the direct effects of climate, soils, and human impacts on SOC storage versus the indirect effects mediated by species richness (SR), aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), and belowground biomass (BB). We found that favorable climates (high temperature and precipitation) had a consistent negative effect on SOC storage in forests and shrublands, but not in grasslands. Climate favorability, particularly high precipitation, was associated with both higher SR and higher BB, which had consistent positive effects on SOC storage, thus offsetting the direct negative effect of favorable climate on SOC. The indirect effects of climate on SOC storage depended on the relationships of SR with ANPP and BB, which were consistently positive in all biome types. In addition, human disturbance and soil pH had both direct and indirect effects on SOC storage, with the indirect effects mediated by changes in SR, ANPP, and BB. High soil pH had a consistently negative effect on SOC storage. Our findings have important implications for improving global carbon cycling models and ecosystem management: Maintaining high levels of diversity can enhance soil carbon sequestration and help sustain the benefits of plant diversity and productivity.