Pablo García-Palacios & Ji Chen: Emerging relationships among soil microbes, carbon dynamics and climate change

In this new post, Pablo García-Palacios, from the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Spain, and Ji Chen from Aarhus University, Denmark, who both serve as Associate Editors for Functional Ecology, present the Special Feature ‘Emerging relationships among soil microbes, carbon dynamics and climate change’. They talk about how they conceived the Special Feature, how they selected authors and topics, and how they coordinated with the contributing authors.

About the special feature

I (Pablo) co-organized a Thematic Session with Mark Bradford from Yale University which was presented during the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, held in Birmingham in 2018, on ‘Microbial influence on climate change feedbacks’. As a result of this meeting, we recently published a Perspectives paper summarizing evidence for large microbial-mediated losses of soil carbon under anthropogenic warming. A lot of key issues remained uncovered, and I teamed up with Ji Chen to coordinate a Special Feature in Functional Ecology to uncover and grapple with some of them.

Soils are a fundamental reservoir of carbon (C) at the global scale, storing 2–3 times the amount of C in the atmosphere, and 3–4 times the amount of C in plant biomass. Consequently, the preservation and increase of soil C can play a significant role in the fight against climate change. We know that soil C responses to climate change are largely driven by soil microbial communities and soil microbial processes; however, our ability to include soil microbes in soil C predictions under climate change remains contested. Our main goal in this Special Feature was to identify emerging findings from soil microbial ecology that ultimately can pave the road for future research on microbial contributions to soil C turnover and storage under climate change.

Authors, topics, and special feature tips!

First, we indicated our preferences for contributions from early-career researchers so that we might receive fresh and novel ideas on a topic that has been deeply studied in the last 20 years. We also aimed for gender diversity in the contributions, and finally gathered eight reviews—first-authored by three women and five men. We submitted our proposal and received outstanding feedback from Chuck Fox, one of the Senior Editors of Functional Ecology, and five Associate Editors. Also, when discussing the organization of the Special Feature, Chuck suggested that we set up a round of internal, more informal, revision rounds with authors to make sure we were all on the same page and delivering consistent information. This turned out to be a major source of success for the Special Feature, and we strongly recommend this to anyone editing a special feature in any journal.

We must say that editing a special feature is a lot of work. the authors to cover key topics, sending and managing dozens of email chains with authors, internal revisions, journal revisions, selecting expert reviewers, etc. However, this also presents an opportunity to think very deeply about the research topic, interact with internationally recognized researchers, and contribute your two cents to the advance of a particular line of research.

About the guest editors

Pablo García-Palacios

Pablo García-Palacios: I am a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences—part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)—which is located in Madrid, Spain. I lead the Ecosystem Ecology and Agroecology Lab where we aim to understand the role of plants and soil organisms as drivers of soil carbon and nitrogen cycling under global change. Our research takes place in natural, agricultural and urban ecosystems. I have always been fascinated by nature, and I also love to travel. The connections between these two facets have driven my interest in ecology since I was a child. Although my first experience with ecological research, during my PhD, was certainly not in the most beautiful ecosystem (roadside grasslands), I developed a major curiosity on how ecosystems work, and since then I have been attracted by and toward ecosystem ecology.

Ji Chen

Ji Chen: I am a Tenure Track researcher at the Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, Denmark. My research aims to identify the mechanisms driving ecosystem carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus dynamics in responses to global change and human activities. During my Ph.D., I explored the responses and driving mechanisms of ecosystem CO2 exchange to experimental warming, herbivory grazing, and prescribed fire. During my postdoc, I investigated the microbial and extracellular enzymes mediating soil carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus dynamics to nitrogen addition, drought, and altered precipitation. My current work deals with the effects of farmland management on ecosystem carbon cycling, as well as extracellular enzyme mechanisms. Multiple research methods are used in my research, including field experiments, lab incubation, meta-analysis, data-assimilation, and data-driven modelling. The overarching purpose of my research is to make our world more resilient, resource-efficient, and sustainable.

Enjoyed this blogpost? Read the Special Feature here.

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