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Soil microbial respiration is an important source of uncertainty in projecting future climate and carbon (C) cycle feedbacks. Despite intensive studies for two decades, the magnitude, direction, and duration of such feedbacks are uncertain, and their underlying microbial mechanisms are still poorly understood. Here we examined the responses of soil respiration and microbial community structure to long-term experimental warming in a temperate grassland ecosystem. Our results indicated that the temperature sensitivity of soil microbial respiration (i.e., Q10) persistently decreased by 12.0±3.7% across 7 years of warming. Integrated metagenomic and functional analyses showed that microbial community adaptation played critical roles in regulating respiratory acclimation. Incorporating microbial functional gene abundance data into a microbially-enabled ecosystem model significantly improved the modeling performance of soil microbial respiration by 5~19%, compared to the traditional non-microbial model. Model parametric uncertainty was also reduced by 55~71% when gene abundances were used. In addition, our modeling analyses suggested that decreased temperature sensitivity could lead to considerably less heterotrophic respiration (11.6±7.5%), and hence less soil C loss. If such microbially mediated dampening effects occur generally across different spatial and temporal scales, the potential positive feedback of soil microbial respiration in response to climate warming may be less than previously predicted.

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