Soil organic carbon quality in forested mineral wetlands at different mean annual temperature.
Forested mineral soil wetlands (FMSW) store large stocks of soil organic carbon (SOC), but little is known on: (i) whether the quality of SOC stored in these soils (proportion of active versus more resistant SOC compounds) differs from SOC in upland soils; (ii) how the quality of SOC in FMSW varies with mean annual temperature (MAT); and (iii) whether SOC decomposition rates in these environments respond to warming and drying more strongly than those observed in upland soils. To address this substantial knowledge gap, we identified nine FMSW and fifteen paired upland forest sites across three bioregions in North America (sub-alpine in Colorado; north-temperate in Minnesota; and south-temperate in South Carolina) to test the following three hypotheses. First, FMSW store a higher proportion of active SOC compared with upland systems because long anaerobic periods favor the accumulation of labile substrates. Second, in FMSW, SOC quality decreases from cold to warm bioregions because high quality detritus accumulates preferentially at cool sites where decomposition is slow. Finally, decomposition of SOC in FMSW will respond more strongly to warming under aerobic conditions than SOC from upland forest soils because of higher accumulation of active SOC in FMSW. To test these hypotheses, we incubated FMSW and upland forest soils at two constant temperatures (10 and 30°) for 525-d under aerobic conditions and constant moisture. In contrast to our first hypothesis, we observed similarly rapid depletion of active SOC compounds at initial stages of incubation across FMSW and upland sites, and across the 525-d incubations we observed overall lower SOC decomposition rates in our FMSW soils. In line with our second hypothesis, and across FMWS and upland soils, we found greater SOC loss in the sub-alpine bioregion than both temperate regions. In contrast to our last hypothesis, we found no difference in the temperature sensitivity (Q10) of SOC decomposition in FMSW and upland forest soils. Critically, total SOC loss (g SOC per g soil) was larger in FMSW because of the large amount of SOC stored in these ecosystems, indicating that despite a lack of difference between FMSW and upland responses, the total release of C from FMSW that could result from global warming may be large.