Monday, November 29, 2010

The first of a few notes on temperature sensitivity

Probability (r) curves for the energy of collisions between a substrate and an enzyme at 20 °C and 30 °C. Shown are differences in activation energy (Ea) and Q10 required for reaction for a labile substrate (upper figure) and a recalcitrant substrate (lower figure).

Globally, soils contain about twice as much carbon as found in the atmosphere and three times as much found in vegetation. The fate of organic carbon stored in the terrestrial biosphere depends in large part depends on the temperature sensitivity of microbial decomposition. Currently, there is still debate over the relative sensitivity of different carbon pools to increases in temperature. Modelers have largely punted on the issue, assuming that respiration doubles with every 10°C increase in temperature (Q10 = 2).

Decomposition is complex, but proximally decomposition is an enzymatic process. As such, at least short-term responses to temperature changes should be governed by chemical laws. The degree to which they actually do is still up in the air. The Arrhenius equation describes the relationship between the rate of reaction (k), the activation energy of a reaction (Ea) and temperature (T)


where R is the gas constant and A is the frequency factor that is specific to each reaction and represents how many collisions between reactants have the correct orientation for reaction. The Arrhenius equation can be used to determine the temperature sensitivity of reactions as well as the fundamental chemical principle that the temperature sensitivity of any given reaction will be proportional to the net activation energy of the reaction.

Mathematically, from the Arrhenius equation, Q10 increases with increasing Ea. For example, at an Ea of 51 kJ mol-1, the Q10 of a reaction between 20 and 30 °C is 2, while at 81 kJ mol-1 the Q10 is 3. The reason for this is derived from molecular collision theory. In brief, at a given temperature, only a small number of the collisions between an enzyme and a substrate will be energetic enough for a reaction to occur, as described by the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution (see figure above). As temperature increases, the number of collisions increases negligibly, but the fraction of collisions with sufficient energy increases significantly, leading to an increase in reaction rate. The ratio of the number of collisions of sufficient energy at two temperatures is the temperature sensitivity of the reaction. And based on teh Maxwell-Boltzman distributions, we can see that this ratio is much higher for higher Ea's.

The Arrhenius equation is a foundational principle for understanding temperature sensitivity. Later, I'll show recent work just now being published in Nature Geoscience that tests whether the temperature sensitivity of microbial decomposition to short-term increases in temperature follows the Arrhenius equation well or whether other factors might be more important. If it does, predicting temperature responses and the fate of terrestrial carbon pools just got a lot easier.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Grassland Climate Change 3.0

Critical climate periods for ANPP, flowering of three grasses, weight gain of calves, yearlings, and adults, as well as calving rates the following year for Konza. Gray bars indicate a negative effect of precipitation on the process, black positive.

If you look at the development of climate change research in grasslands, there have been two main stages. Climate Change 1.0 was trying to understand the importance of changes in growing season precipitation on ecosystem dynamics. Wet years are compared to dry years. Experiments that test climate change in 1.0 modify total precipitation.

We're still largely using Climate Change 1.0. Climate Change 2.0 examines effective precipitation during the growing season. Effective precipitation calculations largely take into account event size and distribution. Light rain events might lower effective precipitation as they are intercepted by canopies. Heavy rain events might lower effective due to greater flow through or runoff. Too light or too heavy and plants might not ever get a chance to use all the rain, hence lower effective precipitation. Some early-adopters are investigating Climate Change 2.0, but it's not mainstream yet. Certainly the projections and climate change models are not built to forecast in a manner that promotes 2.0.

One of my goals has been to push Climate Change 3.0. With 3.0, it's not just how much rain falls during the growing season, nor how much effective rain falls during the growing season. but when the rain falls. If you look at the critical climate periods for aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), they largely show that 1.0 works--the more precipitation in the growing season, the more ANPP. For flowering of the major grasses, it's largely 1.0. Growing season precipitation largely determines flowering, with some differences among the species in their sensitivity to rainfall.

For Konza bison, there is just no relationship between growing season precipitation and weight gain for any sex or age class. But factor in the timing of precipitation, and you can explain up to 80% of the variation among years in weight gain. Why? It's because mid-season precipitation suppresses weight gain, while late-season precipitation promotes it. The climate-nutrition-performance cascade hits bison hard. Most likely, the same thing applies to cattle, although it hasn't been shown.

Climate Change 3.0 is nothing new conceptually. But in practice, 3.0 is. Training our models to predict when precipitation falls can be more important than how much falls for humid grasslands. Training ecologists to start to examine this will be probably be harder.