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  1. Abstract

    Decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) can be stimulated by fresh organic matter input, a phenomenon known as the ‘priming effect’. Despite its global importance, the relationship of the priming effect to mineral weathering and nutrient release remains unclear. Here we show close linkages between mineral weathering in the critical zone and primed decomposition of SOM. Intensified mineral weathering and rock-derived nutrient release are generally coupled with primed SOM decomposition resulting from “triggered” microbial activity. Fluxes of organic matter products decomposed via priming are linearly correlated with weathering congruency. Weathering congruency influences the formation of organo-mineral associations, thereby modulating the accessibility of organic matter to microbial decomposers and, thus, the priming effect. Our study links weathering with primed SOM decomposition, which plays a key role in controlling soil C dynamics in space and time. These connections represent fundamental links between long-term lithogenic element cycling (= weathering) and rapid turnover of carbon and nutrients (= priming) in soil.

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  2. Abstract

    Nitrogen (N) is a key limiting nutrient in terrestrial ecosystems, but there remain critical gaps in our ability to predict and model controls on soil N cycling. This may be in part due to lack of standardized sampling across broad spatial–temporal scales. Here, we introduce a continentally distributed, publicly available data set collected by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) that can help fill these gaps. First, we detail the sampling design and methods used to collect and analyze soil inorganic N pool and net flux rate data from 47 terrestrial sites. We address methodological challenges in generating a standardized data set, even for a network using uniform protocols. Then, we evaluate sources of variation within the sampling design and compare measured net N mineralization to simulated fluxes from the Community Earth System Model 2 (CESM2). We observed wide spatiotemporal variation in inorganic N pool sizes and net transformation rates. Site explained the most variation in NEON’s stratified sampling design, followed by plots within sites. Organic horizons had larger pools and net N transformation rates than mineral horizons on a sample weight basis. The majority of sites showed some degree of seasonality in N dynamics, but overall these temporal patterns were not matched by CESM2, leading to poor correspondence between observed and modeled data. Looking forward, these data can reveal new insights into controls on soil N cycling, especially in the context of other environmental data sets provided by NEON, and should be leveraged to improve predictive modeling of the soil N cycle.

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  3. Abstract

    Warming‐induced changes in precipitation regimes, coupled with anthropogenically enhanced nitrogen (N) deposition, are likely to increase the prevalence, duration, and magnitude of soil respiration pulses following wetting via interactions among temperature and carbon (C) and N availability. Quantifying the importance of these interactive controls on soil respiration is a key challenge as pulses can be large terrestrial sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over comparatively short timescales. Using an automated sensor system, we measured soil CO2flux dynamics in the Colorado Desert—a system characterized by pronounced transitions from dry‐to‐wet soil conditions—through a multi‐year series of experimental wetting campaigns. Experimental manipulations included combinations of C and N additions across a range of ambient temperatures and across five sites varying in atmospheric N deposition. We found soil CO2pulses following wetting were highly predictable from peak instantaneous CO2flux measurements. CO2pulses consistently increased with temperature, and temperature at time of wetting positively correlated to CO2pulse magnitude. Experimentally adding N along the N deposition gradient generated contrasting pulse responses: adding N increased CO2pulses in low N deposition sites, whereas adding N decreased CO2pulses in high N deposition sites. At a low N deposition site, simultaneous additions of C and N during wetting led to the highest observed soil CO2fluxes reported globally at 299.5 μmol CO2 m−2 s−1. Our results suggest that soils have the capacity to emit high amounts of CO2within small timeframes following infrequent wetting, and pulse sizes reflect a non‐linear combination of soil resource and temperature interactions. Importantly, the largest soil CO2emissions occurred when multiple resources were amended simultaneously in historically resource‐limited desert soils, pointing to regions experiencing simultaneous effects of desertification and urbanization as key locations in future global C balance.

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  4. Abstract

    Rooting depth is an ecosystem trait that determines the extent of soil development and carbon (C) and water cycling. Recent hypotheses propose that human‐induced changes to Earth's biogeochemical cycles propagate deeply into Earth's subsurface due to rooting depth changes from agricultural and climate‐induced land cover changes. Yet, the lack of a global‐scale quantification of rooting depth responses to human activity limits knowledge of hydrosphere‐atmosphere‐lithosphere feedbacks in the Anthropocene. Here we use land cover data sets to demonstrate that root depth distributions are changing globally as a consequence of agricultural expansion truncating depths above which 99% of root biomass occurs (D99) by ∼60 cm, and woody encroachment linked to anthropogenic climate change extending D99 in other regions by ∼38 cm. The net result of these two opposing drivers is a global reduction of D99 by 5%, or ∼8 cm, representing a loss of ∼11,600 km3of rooted volume. Projected land cover scenarios in 2100 suggest additional future D99 shallowing of up to 30 cm, generating further losses of rooted volume of ∼43,500 km3, values exceeding root losses experienced to date and suggesting that the pace of root shallowing will quicken in the coming century. Losses of Earth's deepest roots—soil‐forming agents—suggest unanticipated changes in fluxes of water, solutes, and C. Two important messages emerge from our analyses: dynamic, human‐modified root distributions should be incorporated into earth systems models, and a significant gap in deep root research inhibits accurate projections of future root distributions and their biogeochemical consequences.

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  5. Abstract

    Extreme rainfall events in the humid-tropical Luquillo Mountains, Puerto Rico export the bulk of suspended sediment and particulate organic carbon. Using 25 years of river carbon and suspended sediment data, which targeted hurricanes and other large rainstorms, we estimated biogenic particulate organic carbon yields of 65 ± 16 tC km−2yr−1for the Icacos and 17.7 ± 5.1 tC km−2yr−1for the Mameyes rivers. These granitic and volcaniclastic catchments function as substantial atmospheric carbon-dioxide sinks, largely through export of river biogenic particulate organic carbon during extreme rainstorms. Compared to other regions, these high biogenic particulate organic carbon yields are accompanied by lower suspended sediment yields. Accordingly, particulate organic carbon export from these catchments is underpredicted by previous yield relationships, which are derived mainly from catchments with easily erodible sedimentary rocks. Therefore, rivers that drain petrogenic-carbon-poor bedrock require separate accounting to estimate their contributions to the geological carbon cycle.

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  6. Abstract

    Atmospheric deposition of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to terrestrial ecosystems is a small, but rarely studied component of the global carbon (C) cycle. Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) and organic particulates are the sources of atmospheric C and deposition represents a major pathway for the removal of organic C from the atmosphere. Here, we evaluate the spatial and temporal patterns of DOC deposition using 70 data sets at least one year in length ranging from 40° south to 66° north latitude. Globally, the median DOC concentration in bulk deposition was 1.7 mg L−1. The DOC concentrations were significantly higher in tropical (<25°) latitudes compared to temperate (>25°) latitudes. DOC deposition was significantly higher in the tropics because of both higher DOC concentrations and precipitation. Using the global median or latitudinal specific DOC concentrations leads to a calculated global deposition of 202 or 295 Tg C yr−1respectively. Many sites exhibited seasonal variability in DOC concentration. At temperate sites, DOC concentrations were higher during the growing season; at tropical sites, DOC concentrations were higher during the dry season. Thirteen of the thirty‐four long‐term (>10 years) data sets showed significant declines in DOC concentration over time with the others showing no significant change. Based on the magnitude and timing of the various sources of organic C to the atmosphere, biogenic VOCs likely explain the latitudinal pattern and the seasonal pattern at temperate latitudes while decreases in anthropogenic emissions are the most likely explanation for the declines in DOC concentration.

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  7. Abstract

    Soil microbial communities play critical roles in various ecosystem processes, but studies at a large spatial and temporal scale have been challenging due to the difficulty in finding the relevant samples in available data sets as well as the lack of standardization in sample collection and processing. The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) has been collecting soil microbial community data multiple times per year for 47 terrestrial sites in 20 eco‐climatic domains, producing one of the most extensive standardized sampling efforts for soil microbial biodiversity to date. Here, we introduce the neonMicrobe R package—a suite of downloading, preprocessing, data set assembly, and sensitivity analysis tools for NEON’s newly published 16S and ITS amplicon sequencing data products which characterize soil bacterial and fungal communities, respectively. neonMicrobe is designed to make these data more accessible to ecologists without assuming prior experience with bioinformatic pipelines. We describe quality control steps used to remove quality‐flagged samples, report on sensitivity analyses used to determine appropriate quality filtering parameters for the DADA2 workflow, and demonstrate the immediate usability of the output data by conducting standard analyses of soil microbial diversity. The sequence abundance tables produced byneonMicrobecan be linked to NEON’s other data products (e.g., soil physical and chemical properties, plant community composition) and soil subsamples archived in the NEON Biorepository. We provide recommendations for incorporatingneonMicrobeinto reproducible scientific workflows, discuss technical considerations for large‐scale amplicon sequence analysis, and outline future directions for NEON‐enabled microbial ecology. In particular, we believe that NEON marker gene sequence data will allow researchers to answer outstanding questions about the spatial and temporal dynamics of soil microbial communities while explicitly accounting for scale dependence. We expect that the data produced by NEON and theneonMicrobeR package will act as a valuable ecological baseline to inform and contextualize future experimental and modeling endeavors.

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  8. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2024
  9. Abstract

    It is a critical time to reflect on the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) science to date as well as envision what research can be done right now with NEON (and other) data and what training is needed to enable a diverse user community. NEON became fully operational in May 2019 and has pivoted from planning and construction to operation and maintenance. In this overview, the history of and foundational thinking around NEON are discussed. A framework of open science is described with a discussion of how NEON can be situated as part of a larger data constellation—across existing networks and different suites of ecological measurements and sensors. Next, a synthesis of early NEON science, based on >100 existing publications, funded proposal efforts, and emergent science at the very first NEON Science Summit (hosted by Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder in October 2019) is provided. Key questions that the ecology community will address with NEON data in the next 10 yr are outlined, from understanding drivers of biodiversity across spatial and temporal scales to defining complex feedback mechanisms in human–environmental systems. Last, the essential elements needed to engage and support a diverse and inclusive NEON user community are highlighted: training resources and tools that are openly available, funding for broad community engagement initiatives, and a mechanism to share and advertise those opportunities. NEON users require both the skills to work with NEON data and the ecological or environmental science domain knowledge to understand and interpret them. This paper synthesizes early directions in the community’s use of NEON data, and opportunities for the next 10 yr of NEON operations in emergent science themes, open science best practices, education and training, and community building.

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  10. The critical zone has been the subject of much discussion and debate as a term in the ecosystem, soil and earth system science communities, and there is a need to reconcile how this term is used within these disciplines. I suggest that much like watershed and soil ecosystems, the critical zone is an ecosystem and is defined by deeper spatial and temporal boundaries to study its structure and function. Critical zone science, however, expands the scope of ecosystem and soil science and more fully embraces the integration of earth sciences, ecology, and hydrology to understand key mechanisms driving critical zone functions in a place-based setting. This integration of multiple perspectives and expertise is imperative to make new discoveries at the interface of these disciplines. I offer solid examples highlighting how critical zone science as an integrative science contributes to ecosystem and soil sciences and exemplify this emerging field. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 5, 2024