Plant and Soil

, Volume 241, Issue 2, pp 233–242 | Cite as

Influence of soil depth on the decomposition of Bouteloua gracilis roots in the shortgrass steppe

  • Richard A. Gill
  • Ingrid C. Burke


The distribution and turnover of plant litter contribute to soil structure, the availability of plant nutrients, and regional budgets of greenhouse gasses. Traditionally, studies of decomposition have focused on the upper soil profile. Other work has shown that temperature, precipitation, and soil texture are important determinates of patterns of decomposition. Since these factors all vary through a soil profile, it has been suggested that decomposition rates may vary with depth in a soil profile. In this work, we examine patterns of root decomposition through a shortgrass steppe soil profile. We buried fresh root litter from Bouteloua gracilis plants in litterbags at 10, 40, 70, and 100 cm. Litterbags were retrieved six times between July 1996 and May 1999. We found that the decomposition rate for fresh root litter was approximately 50% slower at 1 m than it was at 10 cm. After 33 months, 55% of the root mass buried at 10 cm remained, while 72% of the root mass buried at 1 m was still present. This corresponds to a 19-year residence time for roots at 10 cm and a 36-year residence time for roots at 1 m. Mass loss rates decreased linearly from 10 cm to 1 m. Patterns of total carbon and cellulose loss rates followed those of mass loss rates. Roots at 1 m tended to accumulate lignin-like compounds over the course of the experiment. Differences in the stabilization of lignin may be a consequence of differences in microbial community through a shortgrass steppe soil profile.

Bouteloua gracilis decomposition litterbag soil depth tissue chemistry 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Department of Forest SciencesColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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