Positive and negative effects of UV irradiance explain interaction of litter position and UV exposure on litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics in a semi-arid dune ecosystem

Enkhmaa Erdenebileg, Xuehua Ye, Congwen Wang, Zhenying Huang*, Guofang Liu, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Solar radiation mediated photodegradation of leaf litter has been studied substantially as it plays important roles in the cycling of carbon (C) and nutrients in dryland ecosystems. However, the mechanism by which ultraviolet (UV) radiation and its interaction with litter quality and microbial degradation affect dryland litter decomposition is still uncertain. A field experiment was carried out in semiarid Mu Us inland dunes of Inner Mongolia, China to investigate the effects of UV radiation and litter position on leaf litter decomposition of eight contrasting species (three perennial grasses, three shrubs, two annual forbs) representing different litter qualities over a whole year of incubation. The results showed that UV radiation increased mass loss of suspended litters for two perennial grasses and two annual forbs, but had no significant effect on the other four species considered; across species the percentage increase in mass loss ranged from 4.5 to 27.3% with an average of 13.7%. C release from suspended litters in response to UV radiation showed similar patterns with mass loss. Nitrogen (N) release from litters on the soil surface was lower than in suspended position because the former was involved in N immobilization driven by microbial decomposition. There were no net effects of UV radiation on decomposition rates of surface litters possibly due to the positive effects of photochemical process offsetting negative effects on microbes. Multiple linear regressions showed that the C:N ratio of initial leaf litter and leaf dry matter content (LDMC) could predict the rate of litter decomposition, in which litter C:N ratio had stronger influence. The findings, based on multiple species, highlight the importance of photodegradation on litter nitrogen and/or carbon mineralization in drylands as mediated by different abiotic and biotic drivers.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)245-254
    Number of pages10
    JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
    Early online date29 Jun 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


    We thank Ms. Hongmei Mao for her assistance in litter collection. We thank National Field Research Station for Ordos Grassland Ecosystems in Inner Mongolia of China and Ordos Sandland Ecological Research Station, CAS for providing solar radiation and UV radiation data covering the whole experimental period. This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC, 31470712 ) and the Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China ( 2016YFC050080502 ) for GL, the strategy of CAS Biological Resource Service Networking Project ( ZSSD-014 ) and the National Science and Technology Support Program ( 2012BAD16B03 ) for ZH, the CAS President's International Fellowship Initiative (PIFI, 2018VCA0014 ) for JHCC and the CAS-TWAS President's Fellowship for the International Ph.D Students for EE. We are particularly grateful to Editor Carmen Trasar-Cepeda and anonymous referees for their comments to improve the quality and clarity of the manuscript. Appendix A

    FundersFunder number
    CAS Biological Resource Service
    Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China2016YFC050080502
    Johns Hopkins Children's Center
    University of Washington College of Arts and SciencesZSSD-014
    National Natural Science Foundation of China31470712
    Chinese Academy of Sciences2018VCA0014
    National Science and Technology Planning Project2012BAD16B03


      • Dryland
      • Litter C:N ratio
      • Litter position
      • Litter quality
      • Microbial decomposition
      • Photodegradation
      • UV radiation


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