Regional patterns of decomposition and primary production rates in the US Great Plains

Publication Type:

Journal Article


ECOLOGY, ECOLOGICAL SOC AMER, Volume 83, Number 2, 1707 H ST NW, STE 400, WASHINGTON, DC 20006-3915 USA, p.320-327 (2002)


aboveground net primary production, areal patterns, carbon dynamics, decomposition, Grasslands, Great Plains (USA), precipitation, regional scale, soil organic matter, soil texture, temperature


Warmer regions generally exhibit greater rates of soil respiration and organic matter decomposition than colder regions. In the Great Plains of the United States, soil organic matter declines from the northern part of the region to the south, suggesting greater decomposition rates in areas with warmer temperatures. Our study used a regional data set of aboveground net primary production, soil organic carbon, soil texture, and climate to evaluate the environmental controls over areal patterns in decomposition rates, (k; expressed as grams per year per grain of initial mass), throughout the U.S. Great Plains. We conducted multiple regression analyses of steady-state k with respect to mean annual temperature, mean annual precipitation, and percentage soil clay content to examine both the combined and individual effects of these independent variables on regional decomposition rates. Our results indicated that precipitation contributes more than either temperature or soil texture to areal patterns of decomposition rates in the U.S. Great Plains, explaining >30% of the areal variability in k. Decomposition rates increased with increasing precipitation and with decreasing soil clay content. Temperature explained <8% of the regional variability in k. Ancillary analyses that related temperature and aboveground net primary production in the region indicated that plant productivity declines with increasing temperatures. This suggests that the reduction in soil organic matter to the south in the U.S. Great Plains may be due to reduced plant inputs rather than to increases in decomposition rates. The response of decomposition to temperature is probably constrained by moisture in this water-limited region. Therefore, changes in decomposition rates resulting from temperature dynamics are likely to be minimal unless they are accompanied by sufficient changes in precipitation.