Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 19–26 | Cite as

Effects of increasing ultraviolet B radiation on decomposition and soil organic matter dynamics: a synthesis and modelling study

  • Daryl L. Moorhead
  • Terry Callaghan
Original Paper


The net effect of increasing ultraviolet B radiation levels on ecosystems is unknown. Most of the relevant ecological research has focused on the responses of living plants and algae to ultraviolet B exposure, with little attention directed toward other groups. However, research in such diverse areas of study as the degradation of textiles, pigments, synthetic polymers, paper, cellulose, wood, and museum artifacts show that ultraviolet light is a significant factor in the decay of many organic compounds. In aquatic ecosystems, the photochemical degradation of recalcitrant, dissolved organic compounds is increased by ultraviolet B exposure, and similar reactions could make important contributions to organic matter turnover in terrestrial ecosystems. This hypothesis is supported by observed patterns of decomposition of exposed surface litter in arid and semi-arid environments. Since plant lignins are both photochemically reactive and form a significant component of soil organic matter, ultraviolet B-induced lignin degradation could alter material cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. However, results of a model simulating the potential effects of ultraviolet B-induced lignin degradation suggest that higher rates of litter turnover may have only slight effects on soil organic matter dynamics.

Key words

UV-B radiation Photodegradation Litter Decomposition Stratospheric ozone 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daryl L. Moorhead
    • 1
  • Terry Callaghan
    • 2
  1. 1.Fcology Program, Department of Biological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  2. 2.Merlewood Research StationInstitute of Terrestrial EcologyCumbriaUK

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