Ultraviolet Radiation Accelerates Litter Decomposition Mainly By Increasing Its Biodegradability but Not Abiotic Photomineralization

Monday, 15 December 2014
Lingli Liu, Jing Wang, Xin Wang and Yiwei Chen, IB Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
Elevated ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been shown to stimulate litter decomposition. Despite years of research, it is still not fully understood that whether the fast litter degradation is mostly attributed to abiotic photo-mineralization or the combined abiotic and biotic degradation. Here we used meta-analysis to synthesize photodegradation studies and compared the effects of UV radiation on litter mass decomposition and chemistry with and without inhibiting microbial activities. We also conducted a microcosm experiment to separate UV’s impacts on abiotic and biotic process during decomposition. Overall, our meta-analysis found that, under abiotic condition, UV radiation reduced litter carbon (C) content by 1% and increased dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration by 16%, but had no significant impacts on litter mass remaining. Under the combined abiotic and biotic biodegradation, UV radiation reduced litter lignin content by 14% and mass remaining by 3%. In addition, high UV radiation reduced N immobilization by 19%. Results of our microcosm experiment further found that the amount of respired C induced by UV treated litter increased with UV exposure length, which suggested that longer UV exposure duration leads to greater biodegradability. The microcosm study also found that elevated UV did not alter microbial biomass carbon (MBC) or microbe’s ability to degrade organic matter. Overall, our meta-analysis and microcosm study suggested that although UV radiation significantly increase C loss by photo-mineralization, abiotic photo-mineralization was not great enough to induce significantly change in litter mass balance. However, with the presence of microbial activities, UV greatly facilitated litter decomposition. Such facilitating effect could be due to that elevated UV radiation increases lignin’s accessibility to microbes, and also increases labile carbon supply to microbes. Our results also highlighted that UV radiation could have significant impacts on N cycle during decomposition, mostly by inhibiting N immobilization, but not by accelerating N mineralization.