Skip to main content

Soil Respiration Responses to Throughfall Exclusion Are Decoupled From Changes in Soil Moisture for Four Tropical Forests, Su...

by Daniela Cusack, Lee Dietterich, Benjamin N Sulman
Publication Type
Journal Name
Global Biogeochemical Cycles
Publication Date

Climatic drying is predicted for many tropical forests yet models remain poorly parameterized for these ecosystems, hampering predictions of forest-climate interactions. We applied an integrated model–experiment approach, parameterizing an ecosystem model with tropical forest observational data and comparing model predictions to a field drying manipulation. We hypothesized that drying suppresses soil CO2 fluxes (i.e., respiration) in relatively dry tropical forests but increases CO2 fluxes in wetter tropical forests by alleviating anaerobiosis. We measured soil CO2 fluxes during wet-dry cycles from 2015 to 2022 in four Panamanian forests that vary in rainfall and soil fertility. Measured soil CO2 fluxes declined in the dry season and peaked in the early wet season ahead of peak soil moisture, resulting in lower soil moisture optima for respiration than previously modeled. We then parameterized the model using field data and the new moisture-respiration response functions. The updated model predicted increased soil CO2 fluxes with drying in wetter and fertile forests and suppressed fluxes in drier, infertile forests. In contrast to model predictions, a chronic throughfall exclusion experiment initially suppressed soil respiration across forests, with sustained suppression for four years in the wettest forest only (−28% ± 4% during the dry season). In the fertile forest, drying eventually elevated CO2 fluxes over this period (+75% ± 28% during the late wet season). The unexpected negative drying effect in the wettest, infertile forest could have resulted from reduced vertical flushing of nutrients into soils. Including hydro-nutrient interactions in ecosystem models could improve predictions of tropical forest-climate feedbacks.