UV-B radiation and shrub canopy effects on surface litter decomposition in a shrub-invaded dry grassland

Katharine I. Predick, Steven R. Archer, Stepfanie M. Aguillon, Dean A. Keller, Heather L. Throop, Paul W. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background & Aims: We assessed the joint role of shrub cover and UV-B on decomposition in a Sonoran Desert grassland. UV is considered an important driver of biogeochemistry in arid grasslands and shrub proliferation in these landscapes can alter both abiotic and biotic drivers of biogeochemistry. Methods: We manipulated ambient solar UV-B exposure of Prosopis velutina leaf litter under and away from shrub canopies and assessed decomposition responses over 320 days. Results: Leaf litter mass declined 40% during the first 50 days, but only an additional 10% during the remaining 270 days. Decomposition was slower under shrubs, where ground temperatures and total solar radiation were lower than locations away from shrubs. However, the presence/absence of UV-B radiation had no detectable influence on mass loss either under or away from shrubs. UV-B exposure decreased N immobilization suggesting UV-B photodegradation is facilitating microbial access to litter N. Conclusions: Higher decomposition of litter away from shrubs may reflect a combination of greater rates of thermal degradation and photodegradation. While UV-B did not directly influence decomposition rates, exposure may alter litter nutrient dynamics. Our study suggests landscape-scale decomposition could decline with increases in woody plant canopy cover owing to shrub-driven changes in microclimate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-21
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
StatePublished - Oct 2018


  • Desert grassland
  • Mesquite
  • Photo degradation
  • Prosopis
  • Ultraviolet radiation
  • Woody plant encroachment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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