A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways

Datry, T. and Foulquier, A. and Corti, R. and von Schiller, D. and Tockner, K. and Mendoza-Lera, C. and Clément, J. C. and Gessner, M. O. and Moleón, M. and Stubbington, R. and Gücker, B. and Albariño, R. and Allen, D. C. and Altermatt, F. and Arce, M. I. and Arnon, S. and Banas, D. and Banegas-Medina, A. and Beller, E. and Blanchette, M. L. and Blanco-Libreros, J. F. and Blessing, J. J. and Boëchat, I. G. and Boersma, K. S. and Bogan, M. T. and Bonada, N. and Bond, N. R. and Brintrup Barría, K. C. and Bruder, A. and Burrows, R. M. and Cancellario, T. and Canhoto, C. and Carlson, S. M. and Cauvy-Fraunié, S. and Cid, N. and Danger, M. and de Freitas Terra, Bianca and De Girolamo, A. M and de La Barra, Evans and del Campo, R. and Diaz-Villanueva, V. D. and Dyer, F. and Elosegi, A. and Faye, E. and Febria, C. and Four, B. and Gafny, S. and Ghate, S. D. and Gómez, R. and Gómez-Gener, L. and Graça, M. A. S. and Guareschi, S. and Hoppeler, F. and Hwan, J. L. and Jones, J. I. and Kubheka, S. and Laini, A. and Langhans, S. D. and Leigh, C. and Little, C. J. and Lorenz, S. and Marshall, J. C. and Martín, E. and McIntosh, A. R. and Meyer, E. I. and Miliša, M. and Mlambo, M. C. and Morais, M. and Moya, N. and Negus, P. M. and Niyogi, D. K. and Papatheodoulou, A. and Pardo, I. and Pařil, P. and Pauls, S. U. and Pešić, V. and Polášek, M. and Robinson, C. T. and Rodríguez-Lozano, P. and Rolls, R. J. and Sánchez-Montoya, M. M. and Savić, A. and Shumilova, O. and Sridhar, K. R. and Steward, A. L. and Storey, R. and Taleb, A. and Uzan, A. and Vander Vorste, Ross and Waltham, N. J. and Woelfle-Erskine, C. and Zak, D. and Zarfl, C. and Zoppini, A. (2018) A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways. UNSPECIFIED. Nature Geoscience. ISSN 1752-0894

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Perennial rivers and streams make a disproportionate contribution to global carbon (C) cycling. However, the contribution of intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES), which sometimes cease to flow and can dry completely, is largely ignored although they represent over half the global river network. Substantial amounts of terrestrial plant litter (TPL) accumulate in dry riverbeds and, upon rewetting, this material can undergo rapid microbial processing. We present the results of a global research collaboration that collected and analysed TPL from 212 dry riverbeds across major environmental gradients and climate zones. We assessed litter decomposability by quantifying the litter carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and oxygen (O2) consumption in standardized assays and estimated the potential short-term CO2 emissions during rewetting events. Aridity, cover of riparian vegetation, channel width and dry-phase duration explained most variability in the quantity and decomposability of plant litter in IRES. Our estimates indicate that a single pulse of CO2 emission upon litter rewetting contributes up to 10% of the daily CO2 emission from perennial rivers and stream, particularly in temperate climates. This indicates that the contributions of IRES should be included in global C-cycling assessments.

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