The current literature shows that global climate is changing with temperatures generally increasing, precipitation patterns becoming less predictable and extreme weather events becoming more frequent. However, the literature is often unclear not only about how changes in temperature will affect soil processes but even about how soil temperatures themselves are changing. This thesis has found that soil temperatures over recent decades have increased at rates comparable to air temperatures (average mean of 0.71 in soil and 0.93 Â°C in air over the total length of the data sets used). There were differences in seasonal trends between soil and air, for example, winter air temperatures increased twice as quickly as spring air temperatures whereas in soil winter and spring temperatures were increasing at similar rates. This highlights potential problems for predicting how soil functions such as biogeochemical cycling will respond to realistic temperature change.
In order to assess the effects of changing soil temperatures on particular reactions involved in soil Nitrogen cycling incubation experiments, both short and longer term in the laboratory as well as soil warming in the field were carried out. Realistic warming was found to increase the rates of protease and urease activity during all tests; however, amidase activity was only measurable after the addition of labile carbon and even then showed no temperature sensitivity. This thesis also considered the effect of temperature change on the size and structure of the soil microbial community at these realistic soil temperatures. Both in the lab and the field changes in rates of soil processes (enzyme activity) as a result of temperature change are not accompanied by a change in either size or structure of the microbial community as measured by phospholipid fatty acid analysis, suggesting high levels of functional redundancy within the soil microbial community.
The effects of organic matter input in the field were found to have only small effects on the rates of enzyme activity although this was more important during laboratory incubations. Organic matter quality was also important during lab incubations where lower quality organic matter provoked greater enzyme activity in accordance with q-theory; however, there was no evidence for greater temperature sensitivity of low quality organic matter. The size and structure of the microbial community, both in the field and in the lab, were not affected by either the rate of organic matter input (in the field) or they quality of organic matter (in the lab). The size of the microbial community, however, decreased over time in both situations, the ratio of bacteria to fungi in the soil seemed to increase over time also.