, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 395–400 | Cite as

A comparison of soil climate and biological activity along an elevation gradient in the eastern Mojave Desert

  • R. G. Amundson
  • O. A. Chadwick
  • J. M. Sowers
Original Papers


Soil temperature, moisture, and CO2 were monitored at four sites along an elevation transect in the eastern Mojave Desert from January to October, 1987. Climate appeared to be the major factor controlling CO2 partial pressures, primarily through its influence of rates of biological reactions, vegetation densities, and organic matter production. With increasing elevation, and increasing actual evapotranspiration, the organic C, plant density, and the CO2 content of the soils increased. Between January and May, soil CO2 concentrations at a given site were closely related to variations in soil temperature. In July and October, temperatures had little effect on CO2, presumably due to low soil moisture levels. Up to 75% of litter placed in the field in March was lost by October whereas, for the 3 lower elevations, less than 10% of the litter placed in the field in April was lost through decomposition processes.

Key words

Carbon dioxide Organic matter decomposition Desert soils 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Amundson RG, Chadwick OA, Sowers JM, Doner HE (1988) The relationship between climate and vegetation and the stable carbon isotope chemistry of soils in the eastern Mojave Desert, Nevada. Quat Res 29:245–254Google Scholar
  2. Amundson RG, Chadwick OA, Sowers JM, Doner HE (1989a) Canyon Nevada. Soil Sci Soc Am J 53:201–210Google Scholar
  3. Amundson RG, Chadwick OA, Sowers JM, Doner HE (1989b) The influence of climate on soil evolution in a portion of the eastern Mojave Desert. Geoderma 43:349–371Google Scholar
  4. Amundson RG, Smith VS (1987) Annual cycles of physical and biological properties of an uncultivated and an irrigated soil in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Agric Ecosyst Environm 20:195–208Google Scholar
  5. Arkley RJ (1963) Calculations of carbonate and water movement in soil from climatic data. Soil Science 96:239–248Google Scholar
  6. Bradley WG, Deacon JE (1967) The biotic communities of southern Nevada. In: Wormington HM, Ellis D (eds) Pleistocene studies in southern Nevada. Nevada State Anthrop Papers No 13, pp 201–295Google Scholar
  7. Brook GA, Folkoff ME, Box EO (1983) A world model of soil carbon dioxide. Earth Surf Processes and Landforms 8:79–88Google Scholar
  8. Chadwick OE, Sowers JM, Amundson RG (1989) Morphology of calcite crystals in clast coatings from four soils in the Mojave Desert region. Soil Sci Soc Am J 52:211–219Google Scholar
  9. Clark FE, Paul EA (1970) The microflora of grassland. Adv Agron 22:375–435Google Scholar
  10. Comanor PL, Staffeldt EE (1978) Decomposition of plant litter in two western North American Deserts. In: West NE, Skujins JJ (eds) Nitrogen in desert ecosystems. US/IBP Synthesis Series 9. Dowden, Hutchinson, and Ross, Inc, pp 31–49Google Scholar
  11. Fernandez IJ, Kosian PA (1987) Soil carbon dioxide concentrations in a New England spruce-fir forest. Soil Sci Soc Am J 51:261–263Google Scholar
  12. Jenny H (1941) The factors of soil formation. McGraw-Hill Book Co, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Jenny H (1958) Role of the plant factor in the pedogenic functions. Ecology 39:5–16Google Scholar
  14. Kucera CL, Kirkham DL (1971) Soil respiration studies in tallgrass prairie in Missouri. Ecology 52:912–915Google Scholar
  15. Lundegardh H (1927) Carbon dioxide evolution of soil and crop growth. Soil Sci 23:417–453Google Scholar
  16. Mayer L (1986) The distribution of calcium carbonate in soils: a computer stimulation using program CALSOIL. US Geol Surv Open-File Report 86-155, p 36Google Scholar
  17. Mayer L, MacFadden LD, Harden JW (1988) Distribution of calcium carbonate in desert soils: A model. Geology 16:303–306Google Scholar
  18. Mooney HA, Vitousek PA, Matson PA (1987) Exchange of materials between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. Science 238:926–938Google Scholar
  19. Nelson DW, Sommers LE (1982) Total carbon, organic carbon, and organic matter. In: Page AL (ed) Methods of soil analysis. Part 2, 2nd ed. Agronomy 9, pp 539–579Google Scholar
  20. NOAA (1985) Climatological data. Annual Summary. Arizona. National Climatic Data Center, National Atm Admin 89 (13)Google Scholar
  21. NOAA (1987) Climatological data. Annual Summary. Nevada. National Climatic Data Center, National Atm Admin 102 (13)Google Scholar
  22. Parada CB, Long A, Davis SN (1983) Stable-isotope composition of soil carbon dioxide in the Tucson Basin, Arizona, USA Isot Geosci 1:219–236Google Scholar
  23. Phillips EA (1959) Methods of vegetation study. Holt Publishing Co, Winston, NYGoogle Scholar
  24. Shreve F (1942) The desert vegetation of North America. Bot Rev 8:195–246Google Scholar
  25. Soil Survey Staff (1987) Keys to soil taxonomy (third printing). SMSS technical monograph no. 6. Ithaca, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Solomon DK, Cerling TE (1987) The annual carbon dioxide cycle in a montane soil: observations, modeling, and implications for weathering. Water Res Res 23:2257–2265Google Scholar
  27. Sowers J (1985) Pedogenic calcretes of the Kyle Canyon alluvial fan, southern Nevada: morphology and development. PhD Thesis, University of California, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  28. Spaulding WG (1985) Vegetation and climates of the last 45 000 years in the vicinity of the Nevada Test Site, south-central Nevada. US Geological Survey Prof Paper 1329Google Scholar
  29. Thornthwaite CW (1948) An approach toward a rational classification of climate. Geogr Rev 38:55–94Google Scholar
  30. Whitford WG (1986) Decomposition and nutrient cycling in deserts. In: Whitford WG (ed) Pattern and process in desert ecosystems. Univ of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, pp 93–117Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. G. Amundson
    • 1
  • O. A. Chadwick
    • 1
  • J. M. Sowers
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant and Soil BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations