Food web uncertainties influence predictions of climate change effects on soil carbon sequestration in heathlands

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Wouter Reyns
  • Francois Rineau
  • Jürg W Spaak
  • Oscar Franken
  • Matty P Berg
  • Fons Van Der Plas
  • Natalie Beenaerts
  • Frederik De Laender


Carbon cycling models consider soil carbon sequestration a key process for climate change mitigation. However, these models mostly focus on abiotic soil processes and, despite its recognized critical mechanistic role, do not explicitly include interacting soil organisms. Here, we use a literature study to show that even a relatively simple soil community (heathland soils) contains large uncertainties in temporal and spatial food web structure. Next, we used a Lotka-Volterra-based food web model to demonstrate that, due to these uncertainties, climate change can either increase or decrease soil carbon sequestration to varying extents. Both the strength and direction of changes strongly depend on: (1) the main consumer’s (enchytraeid worms) feeding preferences; and (2) whether decomposers (fungi) or enchytraeid worms are more sensitive to stress. Hence, even for a soil community with a few dominant functional groups and a simulation model with a few parameters, filling these knowledge gaps is a critical first step towards the explicit integration of soil food web dynamics into carbon cycling models in order to better assess the role soils play in climate change mitigation.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Sep 2019