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Title: Global synthesis of the temperature sensitivity of leaf litter breakdown in streams and rivers

Streams and rivers are important conduits of terrestrially derived carbon (C) to atmospheric and marine reservoirs. Leaf litter breakdown rates are expected to increase as water temperatures rise in response to climate change. The magnitude of increase in breakdown rates is uncertain, given differences in litter quality and microbial and detritivore community responses to temperature, factors that can influence the apparent temperature sensitivity of breakdown and the relative proportion of C lost to the atmosphere vs. stored or transported downstream. We synthesized 1025 records of litter breakdown in streams and rivers to quantify its temperature sensitivity, as measured by the activation energy (Ea, in eV). Temperature sensitivity of litter breakdown varied among twelve plant genera for which Ea could be calculated. Higher values of Ea were correlated with lower-quality litter, but these correlations were influenced by a single, N-fixing genus (Alnus). Ea values converged when genera were classified into three breakdown rate categories, potentially due to continual water availability in streams and rivers modulating the influence of leaf chemistry on breakdown. Across all data representing 85 plant genera, the Ea was 0.34 ± 0.04 eV, or approximately half the value (0.65 eV) predicted by metabolic theory. Our results indicate thatmore » average breakdown rates may increase by 5–21% with a 1–4 °C rise in water temperature, rather than a 10–45% increase expected, according to metabolic theory. Differential warming of tropical and temperate biomes could result in a similar proportional increase in breakdown rates, despite variation in Ea values for these regions (0.75 ± 0.13 eV and 0.27 ± 0.05 eV, respectively). The relative proportions of gaseous C loss and organic matter transport downstream should not change with rising temperature given that Ea values for breakdown mediated by microbes alone and microbes plus detritivores were similar at the global scale.« less
ORCiD logo [1] ;  [2] ;  [3] ;  [4] ;  [5] ;  [6] ;  [7] ;  [8] ;  [9] ;  [10] ;  [11] ;  [12] ;  [13] ;  [14] ;  [15] ;  [4]
  1. Univ. of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT (United States). Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Dept. of Geography; Utah State Univ., Logan, UT (United States). Dept. of Watershed Sciences
  2. Florida Intl Univ., Miami, FL (United States). Dept. of Biological Sciences
  3. North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC (United States). Dept. of Forestry and Environmental Resources
  4. Kansas State Univ., Manhattan, KS (United States). Division of Biology
  5. Leibniz Inst. of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Stechlin (Germany). Dept. of Experimental Limnology; Technical Univ., Berlin (Germany). Dept. of Ecology, Berlin Inst. of Technology
  6. Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States). Climate Change Science Inst. and Environmental Sciences Division
  7. Utah State Univ., Logan, UT (United States). Dept. of Watershed Sciences
  8. Pacific Northwest Research Station, Corvallis, OR (United States)
  9. Univ. of Toulouse (France). Ecolab
  10. Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA (United States). Environmental Studies Program
  11. The Ohio State Univ., Columbus, OH (United States). School of Environment and Natural Resources
  12. Univ. of Georgia, Athens, GA (United States). Odum School of Ecology
  13. Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM (United States). Dept. of Biology
  14. Univ. of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), Baltimore, MD (United States). Dept. of Geography and Environmental Systems
  15. Virginia Polytechnic Inst. and State Univ. (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, VA (United States). Dept. of Biological Sciences
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
AC05-00OR22725; ER#1064998
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Global Change Biology
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 23; Journal Issue: 8; Journal ID: ISSN 1354-1013
Research Org:
Oak Ridge National Lab. (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23); National Science Foundation (NSF)
Country of Publication:
United States
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; activation energy; breakdown; carbon cycling; climate chagne; detritivore; leaf chemistry; metabolic theory; microbe; organic matter; temperature sensitivity
OSTI Identifier:
Alternate Identifier(s):
OSTI ID: 1401738