, Volume 193, Issue 2, pp 185-194
Date: 06 Jan 2007

Exposure to solar UV-B radiation accelerates mass and lignin loss of Larrea tridentata litter in the Sonoran Desert

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We assessed whether exposure to solar ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B) affects the mass loss of Larrea tridentata (creosotebush) litter in the Sonoran Desert of central Arizona. We placed three types of litter (leaves, twigs, or a natural mixture of leaves, twigs, and seeds) in bags constructed of UV-B-transmitting or UV-B-absorbing filter material that allowed either 85% (near-ambient UV-B treatment) or 15% (reduced UV-B treatment) of the biologically effective solar UV-B to reach litter inside the bags. Bags were placed outdoors for 4–5 months during the winter at two sites: a balcony or on the soil surface of the desert. Mass loss of leaf litter was greater under near-ambient UV-B than reduced UV-B at both sites: 21 (near-ambient) vs. 18% (reduced) on the balcony, and 18 vs. 14% at the desert site. Mass loss of twig litter was also greater under near-ambient UV-B at the desert site. Mass loss of the natural mixture of litter was also greater when exposed to near-ambient UV-B on the balcony, and tended to be greater at the desert site. We estimate that about 14–22% of the total mass loss of leaf litter during our 4–5 month experiments was attributable to solar UV-B exposure. Leaf litter exposed to near-ambient UV-B had lower concentrations of lignin, and fats and lipids, and slightly higher concentrations of holocellulose. The greater mass loss of litter under near-ambient UV-B appeared mainly attributable to loss of lignin, although losses of fats and lipids were also appreciable. A primary reason for greater mass loss of litter under solar UV-B appeared to be photodegradation, particularly of lignin.