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Scientists measure carbon dioxide from soils in the greenhouse warming experiment.
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Image Courtesy of Steven D. Allison

Soil Microbes Produce Less Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Than Expected With Global Warming

Scientists have learned that microbes that live in the soil, like fungi and bacteria, don't produce more carbon dioxide when the climate is warmer. In fact, at first these microbes will produce more carbon dioxide, but then they overheat and grow more slowly. Eventually this means they produce fewer greenhouse gases that are responsible for a warming climate.

According to a scientist named Steve Allison, "In a balanced environment, plants store carbon in the soil and microbes use that carbon to grow. Enzymes produced by microbes convert soil carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide."

Allison developed a computer model to test what might happen to the carbon cycle when microbes change in response to climate change. The model he created showed that microbes became less productive as the climate warmed. A warming climate made their growth slow and they produced fewer enzymes.

"We need to develop more models to include microbe diversity," Allison said. "But the general principle that's important in our model is the decline of carbon dioxide production after an initial increase."

Last modified May 24, 2010 by Becca Hatheway.

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