Foliar and Woody Litter Decomposition in a Shrub-Invaded Sonoran Desert Grassland
AuthorLevi, Eva Marie
AdvisorArcher, Steven R.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractDecomposition of organic matter is a critical component in global biogeochemical cycling. While decomposition rates have been robustly predicted for mesic systems, modeling decomposition dynamics in drylands has proven to be problematic, reflecting a need to account for processes that may be unique to dryland systems: low and spatially variable vegetation cover, high rates of soil movement, and high levels of radiant energy exposure at the soil surface. Recent empirical evidence suggests that the discrepancies between measured and predicted decomposition rates in drylands may be due to the greater influence of abiotic drivers, such as soil-litter mixing (SLM) and solar radiation, on plant litter decomposition relative to more mesic systems. UV-driven photodegradation may dominate until SLM reaches a threshold, at which point litter is shielded from radiation and microbial processes become predominant. The overarching goal of this dissertation was to examine the influence of SLM and solar radiation on decomposition of foliar and woody plant litter in a dryland ecosystem undergoing woody plant encroachment. A series of four complimentary experiments sought to quantify the effects of these abiotic drivers on decomposition in relation to variables such as vegetation patch type (e.g., beneath a shrub canopy, in a grass patch, on bare ground), radiant energy regime (e.g., full sun vs. shade), geomorphic surface (e.g., sandy, Holocene-age vs. clay-rich, Pleistocene-age soils), seasonality of litter fall (e.g., summer vs. winter), and litter quality (e.g., grass, shrub leaf, woody). Results indicate that interactions between SLM and photodegradation are complex and mediated by variations in ground cover which influence the local radiant energy environment and the movement of soil across the landscape by wind and water. Decomposition rates were significantly influenced by SLM, UV radiation, radiant energy regime, vegetation structure, and initial litter quality. While these results confirmed the importance of SLM and photodegradation as dryland decomposition drivers, they also reinforced the need for additional research to further clarify the relative importance of these processes under field conditions, particularly the interplay between UV radiation and SLM and their relative influence on biotic and abiotic decomposition processes. Given the changes in climate and vegetation projected for drylands, it is critical to further elucidate the influence of these processes on dryland biogeochemical cycling, as their effects may be magnified or dampened under future conditions. A deeper understanding of the processes driving biogeochemical cycling that may be unique to systems undergoing shifts in plant lifeform composition will allow us to better account for the fate of carbon in these globally important ecosystems.
Degree ProgramGraduate College