Imperial College London


Faculty of Natural SciencesThe Grantham Institute for Climate Change

Senior Lecturer







Sherfield BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Publication Type

3 results found

Averill C, Waring B, 2018, Nitrogen limitation of decomposition and decay: How can it occur?, Global Change Biology, Vol: 24, Pages: 1417-1427, ISSN: 1354-1013

The availability of nitrogen (N) is a critical control on the cycling and storage of soil carbon (C). Yet, there are conflicting conceptual models to explain how N availability influences the decomposition of organic matter by soil microbial communities. Several lines of evidence suggest that N availability limits decomposition; the earliest stages of leaf litter decay are associated with a net import of N from the soil environment, and both observations and models show that high N organic matter decomposes more rapidly. In direct contrast to these findings, experimental additions of inorganic N to soils broadly show a suppression of microbial activity, which is inconsistent with N limitation of decomposition. Resolving this apparent contradiction is critical to representing nutrient dynamics in predictive ecosystem models under a multitude of global change factors that alter soil N availability. Here, we propose a new conceptual framework, the Carbon, Acidity, and Mineral Protection hypothesis, to understand the effects of N availability on soil C cycling and storage and explore the predictions of this framework with a mathematical model. Our model simulations demonstrate that N addition can have opposing effects on separate soil C pools (particulate and mineral‐protected carbon) because they are differentially affected by microbial biomass growth. Moreover, changes in N availability are frequently linked to shifts in soil pH or osmotic stress, which can independently affect microbial biomass dynamics and mask N stimulation of microbial activity. Thus, the net effect of N addition on soil C is dependent upon interactions among microbial physiology, soil mineralogy, and soil acidity. We believe that our synthesis provides a broadly applicable conceptual framework to understand and predict the effect of changes in soil N availability on ecosystem C cycling under global change.

Journal article

Hawkes CV, Waring BG, Rocca JD, Kivlin SNet al., 2017, Historical climate controls soil respiration responses to current soil moisture, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol: 114, Pages: 6322-6327, ISSN: 0027-8424

Ecosystem carbon losses from soil microbial respiration are a key component of global carbon cycling, resulting in the transfer of 40–70 Pg carbon from soil to the atmosphere each year. Because these microbial processes can feed back to climate change, understanding respiration responses to environmental factors is necessary for improved projections. We focus on respiration responses to soil moisture, which remain unresolved in ecosystem models. A common assumption of large-scale models is that soil microorganisms respond to moisture in the same way, regardless of location or climate. Here, we show that soil respiration is constrained by historical climate. We find that historical rainfall controls both the moisture dependence and sensitivity of respiration. Moisture sensitivity, defined as the slope of respiration vs. moisture, increased fourfold across a 480-mm rainfall gradient, resulting in twofold greater carbon loss on average in historically wetter soils compared with historically drier soils. The respiration–moisture relationship was resistant to environmental change in field common gardens and field rainfall manipulations, supporting a persistent effect of historical climate on microbial respiration. Based on these results, predicting future carbon cycling with climate change will require an understanding of the spatial variation and temporal lags in microbial responses created by historical rainfall.

Journal article

Waring BG, Adams R, Branco S, Powers JSet al., 2016, Scale-dependent variation in nitrogen cycling and soil fungal communities along gradients of forest composition and age in regenerating tropical dry forests, New Phytologist, Vol: 209, Pages: 845-854, ISSN: 0028-646X

Rates of ecosystem nitrogen (N) cycling may be mediated by the presence of ectomycorrhizal fungi, which compete directly with free‐living microbes for N. In the regenerating tropical dry forests of Central America, the distribution of ectomycorrhizal trees is affected by succession and soil parent material, both of which may exert independent influence over soil N fluxes.In order to quantify these interacting controls, we used a scale‐explicit sampling strategy to examine soil N cycling at scales ranging from the microsite to ecosystem level. We measured fungal community composition, total and inorganic N pools, gross proteolytic rate, net N mineralization and microbial extracellular enzyme activity at multiple locations within 18 permanent plots that span dramatic gradients of soil N concentration, stand age and forest composition.The ratio of inorganic to organic N cycling was correlated with variation in fungal community structure, consistent with a strong influence of ectomycorrhiza on ecosystem‐scale N cycling. However, on average, > 61% of the variation in soil biogeochemistry occurred within plots, and the effects of forest composition were mediated by this local‐scale heterogeneity in total soil N concentrations.These cross‐scale interactions demonstrate the importance of a spatially explicit approach towards an understanding of controls on element cycling.

Journal article

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