Photodegradation effects on CO2 emissions from litter and SOM and photo-facilitation of microbial decomposition in a California grassland.

Yanni, S.F., Suddick, E.C., and Six, J. (2015). "Photodegradation effects on CO2 emissions from litter and SOM and photo-facilitation of microbial decomposition in a California grassland.", Soil Biology & Biochemistry, 91, pp. 40-49. doi : 10.1016/j.soilbio.2015.08.021  Access to full text


Decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) and plant litter has been shown to be affected by high solar radiation; this could partly explain why biogeochemical models underestimate decomposition in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. We set out to test the effect of using traditional PVC chambers for measuring soil gas fluxes versus quartz chambers that allowed passage of light during field measurements in a dry-land field in Davis, CA. Results showed that fluxes from quartz-top chambers were on average 29% higher than from opaque chambers. We also studied the effect of solar light exposure on decomposition of native grass litter and SOM in a field experiment where plots were shaded or left exposed for 157 days during summer; litter did not seem to be affected by exposure to light. However, we concluded that SOM decomposition was affected by light exposure since shaded soil had similar respiration to sunlight-exposed soil indicating that microbial respiration occurred under the shade while photo-degradation likely occurred under the sun. Additionally, 15N-labeled grass was placed in litter bags in the field with either clear filters to allow light or aluminum covers to block light; 3-month exposure caused a change in lignin degradability as indicated by the change in the Ad/Al ratio. Incubation of that litter showed 9.3% more CO2 produced from litter in clear and aluminum bags than unexposed litter. This showed that photo-facilitation occurred although to a small degree and was a result of light exposure and/or heat degradation. We attributed the similar respiration from clear- and aluminum-exposed litter to heat degradation of the aluminum-exposed litter. In conclusion, our results show that in hot dry ecosystems conventional PVC chambers underestimate measured CO2 flux rates; sunlight exposure changes litter chemistry and appears to affect the degradation of soil organic matter, but the magnitude of degradation depends on an interaction of factors such as soil temperature and moisture.

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