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Soil biogeochemical consequences of the replacement of residential grasslands with water-efficient landscapes

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As a result of growing populations and uncertain resource availability, urban areas are facing pressure from federal and state agencies, as well as residents, to promote conservation programs that provide services for people and mitigate environmental harm. Current strategies in

As a result of growing populations and uncertain resource availability, urban areas are facing pressure from federal and state agencies, as well as residents, to promote conservation programs that provide services for people and mitigate environmental harm. Current strategies in US cities aim to reduce the impact of municipal and household resource use, including programs to promote water conservation. One common conservation program incentivizes the replacement of water-intensive turfgrass lawns with landscapes that use less water consisting of interspersed drought-tolerant shrubs and trees with rock or mulch groundcover (e.g. xeriscapes, rain gardens, water-wise landscapes). A handful of previous studies in experimental landscapes have shown that converting a turfgrass yard to a shrub-dominated landscape has the potential to increase rates of nitrate (NO3-) leaching. However, no studies have examined the drivers or patterns across diverse management practices. In this research, I compared soil nutrient retention and cycling in turfgrass and lawn-alternative xeriscaped yards along a chronosequence of time since land cover change in Tempe, Arizona, in the semi-arid US Southwest. Soil inorganic extractable nitrogen (N) pools were greater in xeriscapes compared to turfgrass lawns. On average xeriscapes contained 2.5±0.4 g NO3--N/m2 in the first 45 cm of soil, compared to 0.6±0.7 g NO3--N/m2 in lawns. Soil NO3--N pools in xeriscaped yards also varied significantly with time: pools were largest 9-13 years after cover change and declined to levels comparable to turfgrass at 18-21 years. Variation in soil extractable NO3--N with landscape age was strongly influenced by management practices that control soil water availability, including shrub cover, the presence of sub-surface plastic sheeting, and the frequency of irrigation. This research is the first to explore the ecological outcomes and temporal dynamics of an increasingly common, ‘sustainable’ land use practice that is universally promoted in US cities. Our findings show that transitioning from turfgrass to water-efficient residential landscaping can lead to an accumulation of NO3--N that may be lost from the soil rooting zone over time, through leaching following irrigation or rainfall. These results have implications for best management practices to optimize the benefits of water-conserving residential yards.

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2015

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Phosphorus cycling in Metropolitan Phoenix

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Phosphorus (P), an essential element for life, is becoming increasingly scarce, and its global management presents a serious challenge. As urban environments dominate the landscape, we need to elucidate how P cycles in urban ecosystems to better understand how cities

Phosphorus (P), an essential element for life, is becoming increasingly scarce, and its global management presents a serious challenge. As urban environments dominate the landscape, we need to elucidate how P cycles in urban ecosystems to better understand how cities contribute to — and provide opportunities to solve — problems of P management. The goal of my research was to increase our understanding of urban P cycling in the context of urban resource management through analysis of existing ecological and socio-economic data supplemented with expert interviews in order to facilitate a transition to sustainable P management. Study objectives were to: I) Quantify and map P stocks and flows in the Phoenix metropolitan area and analyze the drivers of spatial distribution and dynamics of P flows; II) examine changes in P-flow dynamics at the urban agricultural interface (UAI), and the drivers of those changes, between 1978 and 2008; III) compare the UAI's average annual P budget to the global agricultural P budget; and IV) explore opportunities for more sustainable P management in Phoenix. Results showed that Phoenix is a sink for P, and that agriculture played a primary role in the dynamics of P cycling. Internal P dynamics at the UAI shifted over the 30-year study period, with alfalfa replacing cotton as the main locus of agricultural P cycling. Results also suggest that the extent of P recycling in Phoenix is proportionally larger than comparable estimates available at the global scale due to the biophysical characteristics of the region and the proximity of various land uses. Uncertainty remains about the effectiveness of current recycling strategies and about best management strategies for the future because we do not have sufficient data to use as basis for evaluation and decision-making. By working in collaboration with practitioners, researchers can overcome some of these data limitations to develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of P dynamics and the range of options available to sustainably manage P. There is also a need to better connect P management with that of other resources, notably water and other nutrients, in order to sustainably manage cities.

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Date Created
2011

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Landscape planning and biogeochemistry: estimating and analyzing carbon sequestration efficacy in dryland open space

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Despite public demand for climate change mitigation and natural open space conservancy, existing political and design efforts are only beginning to address the declining efficacy of the biotic carbon pool (C-pool) to sequester carbon. Advances in understanding of biogeochemical processes

Despite public demand for climate change mitigation and natural open space conservancy, existing political and design efforts are only beginning to address the declining efficacy of the biotic carbon pool (C-pool) to sequester carbon. Advances in understanding of biogeochemical processes have provided methods for estimating carbon embodied in natural open spaces and enhancing carbon sequestration efficacy. In this study, the benefits of carbon embodied in dryland open spaces are determined by estimating carbon flux and analyzing ecological, social, and economic benefits provided by sequestered carbon. Understanding the ecological processes and derived benefits of carbon exchange in dryland open spaces will provide insight into enhancing carbon sequestration efficacy. Open space carbon is estimated by calculating the amount of carbon sequestration (estimated in Mg C / ha / y) in dryland open space C-pools. Carbon sequestration in dryland open spaces can be summarized in five open space typologies: hydric, mesic, aridic, biomass for energy agriculture, and traditional agriculture. Hydric (wetland) systems receive a significant amount of moisture; mesic (riparian) systems receive a moderate amount of moisture; and aridic (dry) systems receive low amounts of moisture. Biomass for energy production (perennial biomass) and traditional agriculture (annual / traditional biomass) can be more effective carbon sinks if managed appropriately. Impacts of design interventions to the carbon capacity of dryland open space systems are calculated by estimating carbon exchange in existing open space (base case) compared to projections of carbon sequestered in a modified system (prototype design). A demonstration project at the Lower San Pedro River Watershed highlights the potential for enhancing carbon sequestration. The site-scale demonstration project takes into account a number of limiting factors and opportunities including: availability of water and ability to manipulate its course, existing and potential vegetation, soil types and use of carbon additives, and land-use (particularly agriculture). Specific design challenges to overcome included: restoring perennial water to the Lower San Pedro River, reestablishing hydric and mesic systems, linking fragmented vegetation, and establishing agricultural systems that provide economic opportunities and act as carbon sinks. The prototype design showed enhancing carbon sequestration efficacy by 128-133% is possible with conservative design interventions.

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2012

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Photo-chemical and microbial degradation of dissolved organic carbon in the Colorado River system

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The focus of this thesis is to study dissolved organic carbon composition and reactivity along the Colorado and Green Rivers. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in large-scale, managed rivers is relatively poorly studied as most literature has focused on pristine unmanaged

The focus of this thesis is to study dissolved organic carbon composition and reactivity along the Colorado and Green Rivers. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in large-scale, managed rivers is relatively poorly studied as most literature has focused on pristine unmanaged rivers. The Colorado River System is the 7th largest in the North America; there are seventeen large dams along the Colorado and Green River. DOC in rivers and in the lakes formed by dams (reservoirs) undergo photo-chemical and bio-degradation. DOC concentration and composition in these systems were investigated using bulk concentration, optical properties, and fluorescence spectroscopy. The riverine DOC concentration decreased from upstream to downstream but there was no change in the specific ultraviolet absorbance at 254 nm (SUVA254). Total fluorescence also decreased along the river. In general, the fluorescence index (FI) increased slightly, the humification index (HIX) decreased, and the freshness index (β/α) increased from upstream to downstream. Photo-oxidation and biodegradation experiments were used to determine if the observed changes in DOC composition along the river could be driven by these biogeochemical alteration processes.

In two-week natural sunlight photo-oxidation experiments the DOC concentration did not change, while the SUVA254 and TF decreased. In addition, the FI and ‘freshness’ increased and HIX decreased during photo-oxidation. Photo-oxidation can explain the upstream to downstream trends for TF, FI, HIX, and freshness observed in river water. Serial photo-oxidation and biodegradation experiments were performed on water collected from three sites along the Colorado River. Bulk DOC concentration in all samples decreased during the biodegradation portion of the study, but DOC bioavailability was lower in samples that were photo-oxidized prior to the bioavailability study.

The upstream to downstream trends in DOC concentration and composition along the river can be explained by a combination of photo-chemical and microbial degradation. The bulk DOC concentration change is primarily driven by microbial degradation, while the changes in the composition of the fluorescent DOC are driven by photo-oxidation.

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Date Created
2015

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Soil Microbial Responses to Different Precipitation Regimes Across a Southwestern United States Elevation Gradient

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Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a critical component of the global carbon (C) cycle, accounting for more C than the biotic and atmospheric pools combined. Microbes play an important role in soil C cycling, with abiotic conditions such as soil

Soil organic carbon (SOC) is a critical component of the global carbon (C) cycle, accounting for more C than the biotic and atmospheric pools combined. Microbes play an important role in soil C cycling, with abiotic conditions such as soil moisture and temperature governing microbial activity and subsequent soil C processes. Predictions for future climate include warmer temperatures and altered precipitation regimes, suggesting impacts on future soil C cycling. However, it is uncertain how soil microbial communities and subsequent soil organic carbon pools will respond to these changes, particularly in dryland ecosystems. A knowledge gap exists in soil microbial community responses to short- versus long-term precipitation alteration in dryland systems. Assessing soil C cycle processes and microbial community responses under current and altered precipitation patterns will aid in understanding how C pools and cycling might be altered by climate change. This study investigates how soil microbial communities are influenced by established climate regimes and extreme changes in short-term precipitation patterns across a 1000 m elevation gradient in northern Arizona, where precipitation increases with elevation. Precipitation was manipulated (50% addition and 50% exclusion of ambient rainfall) for two summer rainy seasons at five sites across the elevation gradient. In situ and ex situ soil CO2 flux, microbial biomass C, extracellular enzyme activity, and SOC were measured in precipitation treatments in all sites. Soil CO2 flux, microbial biomass C, extracellular enzyme activity, and SOC were highest at the three highest elevation sites compared to the two lowest elevation sites. Within sites, precipitation treatments did not change microbial biomass C, extracellular enzyme activity, and SOC. Soil CO2 flux was greater under precipitation addition treatments than exclusion treatments at both the highest elevation site and second lowest elevation site. Ex situ respiration differed among the precipitation treatments only at the lowest elevation site, where respiration was enhanced in the precipitation addition plots. These results suggest soil C cycling will respond to long-term changes in precipitation, but pools and fluxes of carbon will likely show site-specific sensitivities to short-term precipitation patterns that are also expected with climate change.

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Date Created
2019

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Enhanced Microbial Respiration of Photodegraded Leaf Litter at High Relative Humidity is Explained by Relative Water Content Rather Than Vapor Uptake Rate or Carbon Quality

Description

There is a growing consensus that photodegradation accelerates litter decomposition in drylands, but the mechanisms are not well understood. In a previous field study examining how exposure to solar radiation affects decomposition of 12 leaf litter types over 34 months

There is a growing consensus that photodegradation accelerates litter decomposition in drylands, but the mechanisms are not well understood. In a previous field study examining how exposure to solar radiation affects decomposition of 12 leaf litter types over 34 months in the Sonoran Desert, litter exposed to UV/blue wavebands of solar radiation decayed faster. The concentration of water-soluble compounds was higher in decayed litter than in new (recently senesced) litter, and higher in decayed litter exposed to solar radiation than other decayed litter. Microbial respiration of litter incubated in high relative humidity for 1 day was greater in decayed litter than new litter and greatest in decayed litter exposed to solar radiation. Respiration rates were strongly correlated with decay rates and water-soluble concentrations of litter. The objective of the current study was to determine why respiration rates were higher in decayed litter and why this effect was magnified in litter exposed to solar radiation. First, I evaluated whether photodegradation enhanced the quantity of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in litter by comparing DOC concentrations of photodegraded litter to new litter. Second, I evaluated whether photodegradation increased the quality of DOC for microbial utilization by measuring respiration of leachates with equal DOC concentrations after applying them to a soil inoculum. I hypothesized that water vapor sorption may explain differences in respiration among litter age or sunlight exposure treatments. Therefore, I assessed water vapor sorption of litter over an 8-day incubation in high relative humidity. Water vapor sorption rates over 1 and 8 days were slower in decayed than new litter and not faster in photodegraded than other decayed litter. However, I found that 49-78% of the variation in respiration could be explained by the relative amount of water litter absorbed over 1 day compared to 8 days, a measure referred to as relative water content. Decayed and photodegraded litter had higher relative water content after 1 day because it had a lower water-holding capacity. Higher respiration rates of decayed and photodegraded litter were attributed to faster microbial activation due to greater relative water content of that litter.

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2019

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Trade-offs in utilizing of zero-valent iron for synergistic biotic and abiotic reduction of trichloroethene and perchlorate in soil and groundwater

Description

The advantages and challenges of combining zero-valent iron (ZVI) and microbial reduction of trichloroethene (TCE) and perchlorate (ClO4-) in contaminated soil and groundwater are not well understood. The objective of this work was to identify the benefits and limitations of

The advantages and challenges of combining zero-valent iron (ZVI) and microbial reduction of trichloroethene (TCE) and perchlorate (ClO4-) in contaminated soil and groundwater are not well understood. The objective of this work was to identify the benefits and limitations of simultaneous application of ZVI and bioaugmentation for detoxification of TCE and ClO4- using conditions relevant to a specific contaminated site. We studied conditions representing a ZVI-injection zone and a downstream zone influenced Fe (II) produced, for simultaneous ZVI and microbial reductive dechlorination applications using bench scale semi-batch microcosm experiments. 16.5 g L-1 ZVI effectively reduced TCE to ethene and ethane but ClO4- was barely reduced. Microbial reductive dechlorination was limited by both ZVI as well as Fe (II) derived from oxidation of ZVI. In the case of TCE, rapid abiotic TCE reduction made the TCE unavailable for the dechlorinating bacteria. In the case of perchlorate, ZVI inhibited the indigenous perchlorate-reducing bacteria present in the soil and groundwater. Further, H2 generated by ZVI reactions stimulated competing microbial processes like sulfate reduction and methanogenesis. In the microcosms representing the ZVI downstream zone (Fe (II) only), we detected accumulation of cis-dichloroethene (cis-DCE) and vinyl chloride (VC) after 56 days. Some ethene also formed under these conditions. In the absence of ZVI or Fe (II), we detected complete TCE dechlorination to ethene and faster rates of ClO4- reduction. The results illustrate potential limitations of combining ZVI with microbial reduction of chlorinated compounds and show the potential that each technology has when applied separately.

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2017

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Sources and Decomposition of Dissolved Organic Matter in Desert Streams

Description

Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is an important part of aquatic foodwebs because it contains carbon, nitrogen, and other elements required by heterotrophic organisms. It has many sources that determine its molecular composition, nutrient content, and biological lability and in turn,

Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is an important part of aquatic foodwebs because it contains carbon, nitrogen, and other elements required by heterotrophic organisms. It has many sources that determine its molecular composition, nutrient content, and biological lability and in turn, influence whether it is retained and processed in the stream reach or exported downstream. I examined the composition of DOM from vascular wetland plants, filamentous algae, and riparian tree leaf litter in Sonoran Desert streams and its decomposition by stream microbes. I used a combination of field observations, in-situ experiments, and a manipulative laboratory incubation to test (1) how dominant primary producers influence DOM chemical composition and ecosystem metabolism at the reach scale and (2) how DOM composition and nitrogen (N) content control microbial decomposition and stream uptake of DOM. I found that differences in streamwater DOM composition between two distinct reaches of Sycamore Creek did not affect in-situ stream respiration and gross primary production rates. Stream sediment microbial respiration rates did not differ significantly when incubated in the laboratory with DOM from wetland plants, algae, and leaf litter, thus all sources were similarly labile. However, whole-stream uptake of DOM increased from leaf to algal to wetland plant leachate. Desert streams have the potential to process DOM from leaf, wetland, and algal sources, though algal and wetland DOM, due to their more labile composition, can be more readily retained and mineralized.

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Date Created
2018

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Changes in Microbial Communities and Geochemical Energy Supplies Across the Photosynthetic Fringe of Hot Spring Outflows in Yellowstone National Park

Description

Utilizing both 16S and 18S rRNA sequencing alongside energetic calculations from geochemical measurements offers a bridged perspective of prokaryotic and eukaryotic community diversities and their relationships to geochemical diversity. Yellowstone National Park hot spring outflows from varied geochemical compositions, ranging

Utilizing both 16S and 18S rRNA sequencing alongside energetic calculations from geochemical measurements offers a bridged perspective of prokaryotic and eukaryotic community diversities and their relationships to geochemical diversity. Yellowstone National Park hot spring outflows from varied geochemical compositions, ranging in pH from < 2 to > 9 and in temperature from < 30°C to > 90°C, were sampled across the photosynthetic fringe, a transition in these outflows from exclusively chemosynthetic microbial communities to those that include photosynthesis. Illumina sequencing was performed to document the diversity of both prokaryotes and eukaryotes above, at, and below the photosynthetic fringe of twelve hot spring systems. Additionally, field measurements of dissolved oxygen, ferrous iron, and total sulfide were combined with laboratory analyses of sulfate, nitrate, total ammonium, dissolved inorganic carbon, dissolved methane, dissolved hydrogen, and dissolved carbon monoxide were used to calculate the available energy from 58 potential metabolisms. Results were ranked to identify those that yield the most energy according to the geochemical conditions of each system. Of the 46 samples taken across twelve systems, all showed the greatest energy yields using oxygen as the main electron acceptor, followed by nitrate. On the other hand, ammonium or ammonia, depending on pH, showed the greatest energy yields as an electron donor, followed by H2S or HS-. While some sequenced taxa reflect potential biotic participants in the sulfur cycle of these hot spring systems, many sample locations that yield the most energy from ammonium/ammonia oxidation have low relative abundances of known ammonium/ammonia oxidizers, indicating potentially untapped sources of chemotrophic energy or perhaps poorly understood metabolic capabilities of cultured chemotrophs.

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Date Created
2018

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Effects of Grazing Management on Carbon Stocks in an Arid Rangeland

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Rangelands are an extensive land cover type that cover about 40% of earth’s ice-free surface, expanding into many biomes. Moreover, managing rangelands is crucial for long-term sustainability of the vital ecosystem services they provide including carbon (C) storage via soil

Rangelands are an extensive land cover type that cover about 40% of earth’s ice-free surface, expanding into many biomes. Moreover, managing rangelands is crucial for long-term sustainability of the vital ecosystem services they provide including carbon (C) storage via soil organic carbon (SOC) and animal agriculture. Arid rangelands are particularly susceptible to dramatic shifts in vegetation cover, physical and chemical soil properties, and erosion due to grazing pressure. Many studies have documented these effects, but studies focusing on grazing impacts on soil properties, namely SOC, are less common. Furthermore, studies testing effects of different levels of grazing intensities on SOC pools and distribution yield mixed results with little alignment. The primary objective of this thesis was to have a better understanding of the role of grazing intensity on arid rangeland soil C storage. I conducted research in long established pastures in Jornada Experimental Range (JER). I established a 1500m transect in three pastures originating at water points and analyzed vegetation cover and SOC on points along these transects to see the effect of grazing on C storage on a grazing gradient. I used the line-point intercept method to measure and categorize vegetation into grass, bare, and shrub. Since soil adjacent to each of these three cover types will likely contain differing SOC content, I then used this vegetation cover data to calculate the contribution of each cover type to SOC. I found shrub cover and total vegetation cover to decrease, while grass and bare cover increased with decreasing proximity to the water source. I found areal (g/m2) and percent (go SOC to be highest in the first 200m of the transects when accounting for the contribution of the three vegetation cover types. I concluded that SOC is being redistributed toward the water source via foraging and defecation and foraging, due to a negative trend of both total vegetation cover and percent SOC (g/g). With the decreasing trends of vegetation cover and SOC further from pasture water sources, my thesis research contributes to the understanding of storage and distribution of SOC stocks in arid rangelands.

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Date Created
2018