Soil respiration refers to the production of carbon dioxide when soil organisms respire. This includes respiration of plant roots, the rhizosphere, microbes and fauna.
Soil respiration is a key ecosystem process that releases carbon from the soil in the form of CO2. CO2 is acquired from the atmosphere and converted into organic compounds in the process of photosynthesis. Plants use these organic compounds to build structural components or respire them to release energy. When plant respiration occurs below-ground in the roots, it adds to soil respiration. Over time, plant structural components are consumed by heterotrophs. This heterotrophic consumption releases CO2 and when this CO2 is released by below-ground organisms, it is considered soil respiration.
The amount of soil respiration that occurs in an ecosystem is controlled by several factors. The temperature, moisture, nutrient content and level of oxygen in the soil can produce extremely disparate rates of respiration. These rates of respiration can be measured in a variety of methods. Other methods can be used to separate the source components, in this case the type of photosynthetic pathway (C3/C4), of the respired plant structures.
Soil respiration rates can be largely effected by human activity. This is because humans have the ability to and have been changing the various controlling factors of soil respiration for numerous years. Global climate change is composed of numerous changing factors including rising atmospheric CO2, increasing temperature and shifting precipitation patterns. All of these factors can affect the rate of global soil respiration. Increased nitrogen fertilization by humans also has the potential to effect rates over the entire Earth.
Soil respiration and its rate across ecosystems is extremely important to understand. This is because soil respiration plays a large role in global carbon cycling as well as other nutrient cycles. The respiration of plant structures releases not only CO2 but also other nutrients in those structures, such as nitrogen. Soil respiration is also associated with positive feedbacks with global climate change. Positive feedbacks are when a change in a system produces response in the same direction of the change. Therefore, soil respiration rates can be effected by climate change and then respond by enhancing climate change.
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