Biotic and abiotic modifications of leaf litter during dry periods affect litter mass loss and nitrogen loss during wet periods

Daniel Gliksman*, Sabine Haenel, José M. Grünzweig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Decomposition of organic matter in semi-arid ecosystems is a key component of the terrestrial carbon (C) cycle. The well-known inaccuracies in predicting litter decay in water-limited regions were lessened by considering solar radiation as an abiotic decay driver of photodegradation. Moreover, exposure to high solar irradiance in dry periods often led to massive facilitation of litter decay in subsequent wet periods (“photoacceleration”), though in many studies this effect was absent. Recently, water vapour and dew were identified as modulators enabling substantial microbial degradation during rainless periods. Here, we investigated, (1) whether the activity of micro-organisms modifies litter traits, such as litter quality and microbial community in dry periods, consequently altering the loss of litter mass and nitrogen (N) in wet periods, and (2) whether it can co-occur with photoacceleration. By successively introducing litter to the field at the beginning and the end of the dry season, we found that microbial activity during the dry season affected litter mass and N loss during the wet season. Low microbial activity in the dry season led to inhibition of mass loss in the wet season, while high microbial activity led to facilitation of mass loss. Microbial activity during the dry season also caused strong inhibition of N loss from litter during the wet season, likely by enhancing the dry-season N loss. A microclimate manipulation experiment using radiation filters showed that microbial activity and exposure to solar radiation jointly modified the litter during the dry season and affected subsequent decay in the wet season. Knowledge of biotic and abiotic modifications of litter during dry periods and their implication for wet periods enhances our understanding of litter decay in semi-arid regions. Furthermore, it can improve biogeochemical model predictions of C and N cycling in drylands and in the many regions that are projected to experience a drier climate during the coming decades. A plain language summary is available for this article.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)831-839
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. Functional Ecology © 2017 British Ecological Society


  • facilitation
  • inhibition
  • litter decomposition
  • microbial activity
  • microbial degradation
  • nitrogen
  • photoacceleration
  • photodegradation
  • water vapour


Dive into the research topics of 'Biotic and abiotic modifications of leaf litter during dry periods affect litter mass loss and nitrogen loss during wet periods'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this