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A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways


Datry, T; Foulquier, A; et al; Altermatt, Florian; Little, Chelsea J; Bruderer, A (2018). A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways. Nature Geoscience, 11(7):497-503.

Abstract

Perennial rivers and streams make a disproportionate contribution to global carbon (C) cycling. However, the contribution of intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES), which sometimes cease to flow and can dry completely, is largely ignored although they represent over half the global river network. Substantial amounts of terrestrial plant litter (TPL) accumulate in dry riverbeds and, upon rewetting, this material can undergo rapid microbial processing. We present the results of a global research collaboration that collected and analysed TPL from 212 dry riverbeds across major environmental gradients and climate zones. We assessed litter decomposability by quantifying the litter carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and oxygen (O2) consumption in standardized assays and estimated the potential short-term CO2 emissions during rewetting events. Aridity, cover of riparian vegetation, channel width and dry-phase duration explained most variability in the quantity and decomposability of plant litter in IRES. Our estimates indicate that a single pulse of CO2 emission upon litter rewetting contributes up to 10% of the daily CO2 emission from perennial rivers and stream, particularly in temperate climates. This indicates that the contributions of IRES should be included in global C-cycling assessments.

Abstract

Perennial rivers and streams make a disproportionate contribution to global carbon (C) cycling. However, the contribution of intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES), which sometimes cease to flow and can dry completely, is largely ignored although they represent over half the global river network. Substantial amounts of terrestrial plant litter (TPL) accumulate in dry riverbeds and, upon rewetting, this material can undergo rapid microbial processing. We present the results of a global research collaboration that collected and analysed TPL from 212 dry riverbeds across major environmental gradients and climate zones. We assessed litter decomposability by quantifying the litter carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and oxygen (O2) consumption in standardized assays and estimated the potential short-term CO2 emissions during rewetting events. Aridity, cover of riparian vegetation, channel width and dry-phase duration explained most variability in the quantity and decomposability of plant litter in IRES. Our estimates indicate that a single pulse of CO2 emission upon litter rewetting contributes up to 10% of the daily CO2 emission from perennial rivers and stream, particularly in temperate climates. This indicates that the contributions of IRES should be included in global C-cycling assessments.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Scopus Subject Areas:Physical Sciences > General Earth and Planetary Sciences
Uncontrolled Keywords:General Earth and Planetary Sciences
Language:English
Date:1 July 2018
Deposited On:13 Dec 2018 07:34
Last Modified:29 Jul 2020 08:22
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:1752-0894
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0134-4

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