Springer

Regional Patterns in Carbon Cycling Across the Great Plains of North America

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Courtesy of Springer

The large organic carbon (C) pools found in noncultivated grassland soils suggest that historically these ecosystems have had high rates of C sequestration. Changes in the soil C pool over time are a function of alterations in C input and output rates. Across the Great Plains and at individual sites through time, inputs of C (via aboveground production) are correlated with precipitation, however, regional trends in C outputs and the sensitivity of these C fluxes to annual variability in precipitation are less well known. To address the role of precipitation in controlling grassland C fluxes, and thereby soil C sequestration rates, we measured aboveground and belowground net primary production (ANPP-C and BNPP-C), soil respiration (SR-C), and litter decomposition rates for 2 years, a relatively dry year followed by a year of average precipitation, at five sites spanning a precipitation gradient in the Great Plains. ANPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition increased from shortgrass steppe (36, 454, and 24 g C m–2 y–1) to tallgrass prairie (180, 1221, and 208 g C m–2 y–1 for ANPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition, respectively). No significant regional trend in BNPP-C was found. Increasing precipitation between years increased rates of ANPP-C, BNPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition at most sites. However, regional patterns of the sensitivity of ANPP-C, BNPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition to between-year differences in precipitation varied. BNPP-C was more sensitive to between-year differences in precipitation than were the other C fluxes, and shortgrass steppe was more responsive than were mixed grass and tallgrass prairie.

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