Drivers of the microbial metabolic quotient across global grasslands

A. C. Risch, S. Zimmermann, M. Schütz, E. T. Borer, A. A.D. Broadbent, M. C. Caldeira, K. F. Davies, N. Eisenhauer, A. Eskelinen, P. A. Fay, F. Hagedorn, J. M.H. Knops, J. J. Lembrechts, A. S. MacDougall, R. L. McCulley, B. A. Melbourne, J. L. Moore, S. A. Power, E. W. Seabloom, M. L. SilvieraR. Virtanen, L. Yahdjian, R. Ochoa-Hueso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Aim: The microbial metabolic quotient (MMQ; mg CO2-C/mg MBC/h), defined as the amount of microbial CO2 respired (MR; mg CO2-C/kg soil/h) per unit of microbial biomass C (MBC; mg C/kg soil), is a key parameter for understanding the microbial regulation of the carbon (C) cycle, including soil C sequestration. Here, we experimentally tested hypotheses about the individual and interactive effects of multiple nutrient addition (nitrogen + phosphorus + potassium + micronutrients) and herbivore exclusion on MR, MBC and MMQ across 23 sites (five continents). Our sites encompassed a wide range of edaphoclimatic conditions; thus, we assessed which edaphoclimatic variables affected MMQ the most and how they interacted with our treatments. Location: Australia, Asia, Europe, North/South America. Time period: 2015–2016. Major taxa: Soil microbes. Methods: Soils were collected from plots with established experimental treatments. MR was assessed in a 5-week laboratory incubation without glucose addition, MBC via substrate-induced respiration. MMQ was calculated as MR/MBC and corrected for soil temperatures (MMQsoil). Using linear mixed effects models (LMMs) and structural equation models (SEMs), we analysed how edaphoclimatic characteristics and treatments interactively affected MMQsoil. Results: MMQsoil was higher in locations with higher mean annual temperature, lower water holding capacity and lower soil organic C concentration, but did not respond to our treatments across sites as neither MR nor MBC changed. We attributed this relative homeostasis to our treatments to the modulating influence of edaphoclimatic variables. For example, herbivore exclusion, regardless of fertilization, led to greater MMQsoil only at sites with lower soil organic C (< 1.7%). Main conclusions: Our results pinpoint the main variables related to MMQsoil across grasslands and emphasize the importance of the local edaphoclimatic conditions in controlling the response of the C cycle to anthropogenic stressors. By testing hypotheses about MMQsoil across global edaphoclimatic gradients, this work also helps to align the conflicting results of prior studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)904-918
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Global Ecology and Biogeography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Nutrient Network: A Global Research Cooperative (NutNet)
  • anthropogenic management
  • climate
  • herbivore exclusion
  • microbial biomass carbon
  • microbial respiration
  • nutrient addition
  • soil properties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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