A unified theory for organic matter accumulation

Zakem, E. J., Cael, B. B., & Levine, N. M. (2021). A unified theory for organic matter accumulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(6). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2016896118


Organic matter in the global ocean, soils, and sediments stores about five times more carbon than the atmosphere. Thus, the controls on the accumulation of organic matter are critical to global carbon cycling. However, there is a lack of quantitative understanding of these controls. This prevents meaningful descriptions of organic matter cycling in global climate models, which are required for understanding how changes in organic matter reservoirs provide feedbacks to past and present changes in climate. Currently, explanations for organic matter accumulation remain under debate, characterized by seemingly competing hypotheses. In this study, the authors developed a quantitative framework for organic matter accumulation that unifies these hypotheses. The framework derives from the ecological dynamics of microorganisms, the dominant consumers of organic matter.