OOS 22-6
Microbial decomposition of dead grassland roots and its influence on the carbon cycle under changing precipitation patterns

Tuesday, August 11, 2015: 9:50 AM
341, Baltimore Convention Center
Caryl Ann Becerra, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA
Joshua P. Schimel, Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA

Decomposition of dead roots is a primary contributor to soil organic carbon, particularly in grasslands where soil C pools are typically large. However, grasslands occur where precipitation is somewhat limited and often erratic; changing precipitation patterns may alter decomposition dynamics and the fate of root carbon. To assess the impact of changing precipitation patterns, we constructed microcosms with grassland soil collected from the UCSB Sedgwick Reserve, an active and long-term research site, and dead roots from greenhouse-grown grass, Bromus diandrus. Microcosms were wetted continuously, every seven days, or every twenty days. Sets of microcosms were periodically deconstructed to assess the soil versus the roots-associated microbial community and its function. 


Differences in respiration rates of microcosms continuously wetted or wetted every 7 days versus microcosms wetted every 20 days existed for the first 70 days. After which, no differences in respiration rates were seen with microcosms containing roots and the no-roots control. Relatedly, after a 70% roots mass loss by day 50, there was no difference in the respiration rate of microcosms containing roots and the no roots control. More than half of the roots mass loss had occurred by 30 days.  By the end of the incubation period, the roots mass loss in continuously wet and 7-day wetted microcosms were over 80% compared to 67% for the microcosms wetted every 20 days. Microbial biomass in the soil were constant over time and showed no difference in treatment except with the no roots control during the first half of the incubation period. Hydrolytic enzyme activities (b-1,4-glucosidase; a-1,4-glucosidase; b-1,4-xylosidase; b-1,4-cellobiosidase) on the roots versus the soil attached to the roots were over an order greater and decreased faster with the exception of N-acetyl-glucosaminidase and acid phosphatase. Oxidative enzyme activities (phenol oxidase and peroxidase) on the roots versus the soil were also an order of magnitude greater, however the activities were constant over time regardless of the treatment, whereas the activities in the soil increased then decreased after 50 days. Our results suggest that the frequency of precipitation affects early root decomposition and long-term soil carbon storage of dead roots relatively unaffected by changing precipitation patterns.