Food web uncertainties influence predictions of climate change effects on soil carbon sequestration in heathlands

Wouter Reyns, Francois Rineau, Jurg Spaak, Oscar Franken, Matty Berg, Fons Van der Plas, Richard Bardgett, Natalie Beenaerts, Frédérik De Laender

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Carbon cycling models consider soil carbon sequestration a key process for climate change mitigation. However, these models mostly focus on abiotic soil processes and, despite its recognized critical mechanistic role, do not explicitly include interacting soil organisms. Here, we use a literature study to show that even a relatively simple soil community (heathland soils) contains large uncertainties in temporal and spatial food web structure. Next, we used a Lotka–Volterra-based food web model to demonstrate that, due to these uncertainties, climate change can either increase or decrease soil carbon sequestration to varying extents. Both the strength and direction of changes strongly depend on (1) the main consumer’s (enchytraeid worms) feeding preferences and (2) whether decomposers (fungi) or enchytraeid worms are more sensitive to stress. Hence, even for a soil community with a few dominant functional groups and a simulation model with a few parameters, filling these knowledge gaps is a critical first step towards the explicit integration of soil food web dynamics into carbon cycling models in order to better assess the role soils play in climate change mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-693
Number of pages8
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020



  • Climate change
  • Food web
  • Heathlands
  • Modelling
  • Soil carbon sequestration
  • Stress

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