Assessing five evolving microbial enzyme models against field measurements from a semiarid savannah – what are the mechanisms of soil respiration pulses?
Soil microbial respiration pulses in response to episodic rainfall pulses (the "Birch effect") are poorly understood. We developed and assessed five evolvingmicrobial enzyme models against field measurements from a semiarid savannah characterized by pulsed precipitation to understand the mechanisms to generate the Birch pulses. The five models evolve from an existing four-carbon (C) pool model to models with additional C pools and explicit representations of soil moisture controls on C degradation and microbial uptake rates. Assessing the models using techniques of model selection and model averaging suggests that models with additional C pools for accumulation of degraded C in the dry zone of the soil pore space result in a higher probability of reproducing the observed Birch pulses. Degraded C accumulated in dry soil pores during dry periods becomes immediately accessible to microbes in response to rainstorms, providing a major mechanism to generate respiration pulses. Explicitly representing the transition of degraded C and enzymes between dry and wet soil pores in response to soil moisture changes and soil moisture controls on C degradation and microbial uptake rates improve the models' efficiency and robustness in simulating the Birch effect. Assuming that enzymes in the dry soil pores facilitate degradation of complex C during dry periods (though at a lower rate) results in a greater accumulation of degraded C and thus further improves the models' performance. However, the actual mechanism inducing the greater accumulation of labile C needs further experimental studies.