Modeling Transient Soil Moisture Limitations on Microbial Carbon Respiration

Yuchen Liu, Corey R. Lawrence, Matthew J. Winnick, Hsiao Tieh Hsu, Katharine Maher, Jennifer L. Druhan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil microorganisms are known to survive periods of aridity and to recover rapidly after wetting events, with the ability to transition between a dormant state in dry conditions and an active state in wet conditions. Though this dynamic behavior has been previously incorporated into soil carbon respiration modeling frameworks, a direct comparison between this active-dormant transition mechanism and a more simplified first-order model has yet to be made. Here, we demonstrate the necessary extent of model complexity needed to reproduce transient carbon respiration rates obtained from a set of soil incubation experiments implemented over a range of soil depths and time intervals. Two approaches are tested, one uses simplified first-order kinetics, whereas the other employs a transition between active and dormant biomass. The performance of each model is evaluated using an Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) based on the accuracy with which they reproduce an experimental dataset consisting of two sets of time series soil incubations collected across a range of time and depth resolutions. Based on the AIC evaluation and model-data comparison, we conclude that a dormancy-enabled model featuring two distinct microbial strategists performs best for the majority of the soil profile (above 108 cm) for both high and low depth resolution and sampling frequency, despite the added parameters required. In contrast, the first-order model achieves better AIC scores when simulating our deepest soils (112–165 cm), where moisture fluctuations are expected to be less prevalent. These results guide how and where we choose to apply more cost intensive models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2222-2247
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2019


  • microbial respiration
  • reactive transport
  • soil carbon
  • soil moisture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Palaeontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Modeling Transient Soil Moisture Limitations on Microbial Carbon Respiration'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this