Regional patterns in carbon cycling across the Great Plains of North America

Publication Type:

Journal Article


ECOSYSTEMS, SPRINGER, Volume 8, Number 1, 233 SPRING STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10013 USA, p.106-121 (2005)


grassland, Great Plains, litter decomposition, Net primary production, precipitation, Regional trends, Soil respiration


The large organic carbon ( C) pools found in noncultivated grassland soils suggest that historically these ecosystems have had high rates of C sequestration. Changes in the soil C pool over time are a function of alterations in C input and output rates. Across the Great Plains and at individual sites through time, inputs of C ( via aboveground production) are correlated with precipitation; however, regional trends in C outputs and the sensitivity of these C fluxes to annual variability in precipitation are less well known. To address the role of precipitation in controlling grassland C fluxes, and thereby soil C sequestration rates, we measured aboveground and belowground net primary production (ANPP-C and BNPP- C), soil respiration (SR-C), and litter decomposition rates for 2 years, a relatively dry year followed by a year of average precipitation, at five sites spanning a precipitation gradient in the Great Plains. ANPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition increased from shortgrass steppe (36, 454, and 24 g C m(-2) y(-1)) to tallgrass prairie (180, 1221, and 208 g C m(-2) y(-1) for ANPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition, respectively). No significant regional trend in BNPP-C was found. Increasing precipitation between years increased rates of ANPP-C, BNPP-C, SR-C, and litter decomposition at most sites. However, regional patterns of the sensitivity of ANPP-C, BNPP-C, SRC, and litter decomposition to between-year differences in precipitation varied. BNPP-C was more sensitive to between-year differences in precipitation than were the other C fluxes, and shortgrass steppe was more responsive than were mixed grass and tallgrass prairie.