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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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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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Vegetation Controls on Erosion, Soil Organic Carbon Pools, and Soil Nitrogen Pools in a Dryland Ecosystem

Description

Drylands (arid and semi-arid grassland ecosystems) cover about 40% of the Earth's surface and support over 40% of the human population, most of which is in emerging economies. Human development of drylands leads to topsoil loss, and over the last

Drylands (arid and semi-arid grassland ecosystems) cover about 40% of the Earth's surface and support over 40% of the human population, most of which is in emerging economies. Human development of drylands leads to topsoil loss, and over the last 160 years, woody plants have encroached on drylands, both of which have implications for maintaining soil viability. Understanding the spatial variability in erosion and soil organic carbon and total nitrogen under varying geomorphic and biotic forcing in drylands is therefore of paramount importance. This study focuses on how two plants, palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla, nitrogen-fixing) and jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis, non-nitrogen fixing), affect sediment transport and soil organic carbon and total nitrogen pools in a dryland environment north of Phoenix, Arizona. Bulk samples were systematically collected from the top 10 cm of soil in twelve catenae to control for the existence and type of plants, location to canopy (sub- or intercanopy, up- or downslope), aspect, and distance from the divide. Samples were measured for soil organic carbon and total nitrogen and an unmanned aerial system-derived digital elevation map of the field site was created for spatial analysis. A subset of the samples was measured for the short-lived isotopes 137Cs and 210Pbex, which serve as proxy erosion rates. Erosional soils were found to have less organic carbon and total nitrogen than depositional soils. There were clear differences in the data between the two plant types: jojoba catenae had higher short-lived isotope activity, lower carbon and nitrogen, and smaller canopies than those of palo verde, suggesting lower erosion rates and nutrient contributions from jojoba plants. This research quantifies the importance of biota on influencing hillslope and soil dynamics in a semi-arid field site in central AZ and finishes with a discussion on the global implications for soil sustainability.

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Date Created
2018

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Physiological Response to Environmental Stress in Drylands Ecosystems: Examining Prosopis velutina Seedling Responses to Temporal Water Availability Gradients

Description

Climate change is increasing global surface temperatures, intensifying droughts and increasing rainfall variation, particularly in drylands. Understanding how dryland plant communities respond to climate change-induced rainfall changes is crucial for implementing effective conservation strategies. Concurrent with climate change impacts on

Climate change is increasing global surface temperatures, intensifying droughts and increasing rainfall variation, particularly in drylands. Understanding how dryland plant communities respond to climate change-induced rainfall changes is crucial for implementing effective conservation strategies. Concurrent with climate change impacts on drylands is woody encroachment: an increase in abundance of woody plant species in areas formerly dominated by grasslands or savannahs. For example, the woody plant, Prosopis velutina (velvet mesquite), has encroached into grasslands regionally over the past century. From an agricultural perspective, P. velutina is an invasive weed that hinders cattle forage. Understanding how P. velutina will respond to climate change-induced rainfall changes can be useful for management and conservation efforts. Prosopis velutina was used to answer the following question: Is there a significant interactive effect of mean soil water moisture content and pulse frequency on woody seedling survival and growth in dryland ecosystems? There were 256 P. velutina seedlings sourced from the Santa Rita Experimental Range in southern Arizona grown under four watering treatments where mean and pulse frequency were manipulated over two months. Data were collected on mortality, stem height, number of leaves, instantaneous gas exchange, chlorophyll fluorescence, biomass, and the leaf carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio. Mortality was low across treatments. Pulse frequency had less impact across response variables than the mean amount of water received. This may indicate that P. velutina seedlings are relatively insensitive to rainfall timing and are more responsive to rainfall amount. Prosopis velutina in the low mean soil moisture treatments lost a majority of their leaves and had greater biomass allocation to roots. Prosopis velutina’s ability to survive in low soil moisture conditions and invest in root biomass can allow it to persist as drylands are further affected by climate change. Prosopis velutina could benefit ecosystems where native plants are at risk due to rainfall variation if P. velutina occupies a similar niche space. Due to conflicting viewpoints of P. velutina as an invasive species, it’s important to examine P. velutina from both agricultural and conservation perspectives. Further analysis on the benefits to P. velutina in these ecosystems is recommended.

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2020