Effects of increased summer precipitation and nitrogen addition on root decomposition in a temperate desert

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Abstract

Background Climate change scenarios that include precipitation shifts and nitrogen (N) deposition are impacting carbon (C) budgets in arid ecosystems. Roots constitute an important part of the C cycle, but it is still unclear which factors control root mass loss and nutrient release in arid lands. Methodology/Principal Findings Litterbags were used to investigate the decomposition rate and nutrient dynamics in root litter with water and N-addition treatments in the Gurbantunggut Desert in China. Water and N addition had no significant effect on root mass loss and the N and phosphorus content of litter residue. The loss of root litter and nutrient releases were strongly controlled by the initial lignin content and the lignin:N ratio, as evidenced by the negative correlations between decomposition rate and litter lignin content and the lignin:N ratio. Fine roots of Seriphidium santolinum (with higher initial lignin content) had a slower decomposition rate in comparison to coarse roots. Conclusion/Significance Results from this study indicate that small and temporary changes in rainfall and N deposition do not affect root decomposition patterns in the Gurbantunggut Desert. Root decomposition rates were significantly different between species, and also between fine and coarse roots, and were determined by carbon components, especially lignin content, suggesting that root litter quality may be the primary driver of belowground carbon turnover.

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Zhao, H., Huang, G., Li, Y., Ma, J., Sheng, J., Jia, H., & Li, C. (2015). Effects of increased summer precipitation and nitrogen addition on root decomposition in a temperate desert. PLoS ONE, 10(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0142380

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