Original Research

Determinants of soil respiration in a semi-arid savanna ecosystem, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Rudzani A. Makhado, Robert J. Scholes
Koedoe | Vol 53, No 1 | a1041 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v53i1.1041 | © 2011 Rudzani A. Makhado, Robert J. Scholes | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 24 January 2011 | Published: 08 September 2011

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Rudzani A. Makhado, Natural Resources and the Environment, CSIR, South Africa
Robert J. Scholes, Natural Resources and the Environment, CSIR, South Africa

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Soil respiration, which is a combination of root respiration and microbial respiration, represents one of the main carbon fluxes in savannas. However, it is remarkable how little is known about these components – regarding either process-level mechanisms or quantitative estimates, especially in savanna ecosystems. Given the extensive area of savannas worldwide, this limits our ability to understand and predict the critical changes in the global carbon budget that underlie the phenomenon of global climate change. From May 2000 to April 2001, bi-weekly soil respiration measurements from two savanna types were made in 14 sampling collars (diameter = 100 mm), using a PP Systems EGM-2 respirometer. Results indicated that there was a difference in the rate of respiration between the more clayey Acacia and sandier Combretum savanna soils (p = 0.028). The mean (± s.d.) soil respiration in the Acacia savanna was 0.540 g/m2/h ± 0.419 g/m2/h, whilst it was 0.484 g/m2/h ± 0.383 g/m2/h in the Combretum savanna. We also found that soil respiration was sensitive to soil moisture and soil temperature. The rate of soil respiration at both sites rose to a maximum when soil temperature was at 28 °C and declined at higher temperatures, despite different temperature sensitivities. Soil respiration increased approximately linearly with an increase of soil moisture. In both savanna sites soil is subject to a combination of high temperature and water stress, which controls the fluxes of soil carbon dioxide. We found that the two sites differed significantly in their soil moisture characteristics (p < 0.0001) but not with regard to temperature (p = 0.141), which implies that soil moisture is the main factor responsible for the differences in respiration between Acacia and Combretum savannas.

Conservation implications: It is argued for many protected areas that they perform a climate change buffering function. Knowing the soil respiration rate and determining its controlling factors contribute to improved understanding of whether protected areas will be net sources or sinks of carbon in the future.


Carbon dioxide; moisture; savanna; soil respiration; temperature


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