Sunlight and Soil–Litter Mixing: Drivers of Litter Decomposition in Drylands

  • Paul W. BarnesEmail author
  • Heather L. Throop
  • Steven R. Archer
  • David D. Breshears
  • Rebecca L. McCulley
  • Mark A. Tobler
Part of the Progress in Botany book series (BOTANY, volume 76)


Decomposition of leaf litter is a key component of biogeochemical cycles but the mechanisms driving it in arid and semiarid ecosystems (drylands) remain unresolved. Here, we review recent findings that demonstrate dual roles of solar radiation (ultraviolet and photosynthetically active radiation) and soil–litter mixing as drivers of decomposition in drylands. We focus on the known and potential mechanisms by which these factors influence leaf litter decomposition, explore how the importance of these two drivers may shift over time, and propose possible avenues by which these factors may interact. Special attention is given to UV in sunlight, as this radiation is known to have multiple roles in influencing decomposition and has received considerable recent research attention. We also identify important uncertainties and challenges and offer a generalized conceptual model to guide future research aimed at enhancing our mechanistic understanding and quantitative modeling of the processes by which soil deposition and solar radiation together influence leaf litter decomposition rates in globally extensive dryland ecosystems.


Litter Decomposition Coarse Woody Debris Action Spectrum Overland Flow Soil Deposition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Financial support was provided by the US National Science Foundation (DEB 0815897 [Loyola University], DEB 0815808 [New Mexico State University], DEB 0816162 [University of Arizona], DEB 0814461 [University of Kentucky]), the Loyola University J.H. Mullahy Endowment for Environmental Biology, and the Jornada Basin LTER (DEB 0618210). Additional support was provided by the Arizona and Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Stations, and the University of Arizona – Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico Drylands Research Consortium (#15), and US National Science Foundation (EAR 0724958 and 1331408 [University of Arizona]). We thank Jason P. Field, Daniel B. Hewins, Dean Keller, Darin J. Law, Hanna Lee, Eva Levi, Cianna Logie, Rachel Power, Katie Predick, Theresa Melhem, and Lee Chedister for related research and discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul W. Barnes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Heather L. Throop
    • 2
  • Steven R. Archer
    • 3
  • David D. Breshears
    • 3
  • Rebecca L. McCulley
    • 4
  • Mark A. Tobler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesLoyola University New OrleansNew OrleansUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Plant and Soil ScienceUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

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