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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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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

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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