Reduction of soil carbon formation by tropospheric ozone under increased carbon dioxide levels

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In the Northern Hemisphere, ozone levels in the troposphere have increased by 35 per cent over the past century, with detrimental impacts on forest and agricultural productivity, even when forest productivity has been stimulated by increased carbon dioxide levels. In addition to reducing productivity, increased tropospheric ozone levels could alter terrestrial carbon cycling by lowering the quantity and quality of carbon inputs to soils. However, the influence of elevated ozone levels on soil carbon formation and decomposition are unknown. Here we examine the effects of elevated ozone levels on the formation rates of total and decay-resistant acid-insoluble soil carbon under conditions of elevated carbon dioxide levels in experimental aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands and mixed aspen-birch (Betula papyrifera) stands. With ambient concentrations of ozone and carbon dioxide both raised by 50 per cent, we find that the formation rates of total and acid-insoluble soil carbon are reduced by 50 per cent relative to the amounts entering the soil when the forests were exposed to increased carbon dioxide alone. Our results suggest that, in a world with elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, global-scale reductions in plant productivity due to elevated ozone levels will also lower soil carbon formation rates significantly.

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