Enhanced Precipitation Promotes Decomposition and Soil C Stabilization in Semiarid Ecosystems, but Seasonal Timing of Wetting Matters

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Aims Changing precipitation regimes in semiarid ecosystems will affect the balance of soil carbon (C) input and release, but the net effect on soil C storage is unclear. We asked how changes in the amount and timing of precipitation affect litter decomposition, and soil C stabilization in semiarid ecosystems.

Methods The study took place at a long-term (18 years) ecohydrology experiment located in Idaho. Precipitation treatments consisted of a doubling of annual precipitation (+200 mm) added either in the cold-dormant season or in the growing season. Experimental plots were planted with big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), or with crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum). We quantified decomposition of sagebrush leaf litter, and we assessed organic soil C (SOC) in aggregates, and silt and clay fractions.

Results We found that: (1) increased precipitation applied in the growing season consistently enhanced decomposition rates relative to the ambient treatment, and (2) precipitation applied in the dormant season enhanced soil C stabilization.

Conclusions These data indicate that prolonged increases in precipitation can promote soil C storage in semiarid ecosystems, but only if these increases happen at times of the year when conditions allow for precipitation to promote plant C inputs rates to soil.


Erratum in: Plant and Soil (2017 Jul), 416(1-2), 427-436. doi: 10.1007/s11104-017-3326-6

Original error: Author affiliation for M.J. Germino in original publication stated as:

US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, 970 Lusk St, Boise, ID 82706, USA

Corrected to:

US Geological Survey, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, 970 Lusk St, Boise, ID 83706, USA