September 11, 2019
Arizona State University professor Heather Throop penned a new research article that advances our understanding of dryland litter cycles. Drylands are arid ecosystems characterized by a lack of water. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, drylands "have been shaped by a combination of low precipitation, droughts and heat waves."
Litter in this case refers to parts of plants that have detached and fallen to the ground. A litter cycle is then the journey of litter from its location on the ground, its movement by horizontal or vertical vectors (such as water), and its eventual decomposition in the same or a secondary location. The litter decomposition rates in drylands are often underpredicted, resulting in a key knowledge gap that is important to address because litter decomposition has a significant influence on ecosystem properties.
In her journal article, Throop — an ecosystem scientist and senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability — explains horizontal and vertical litter movement, litter retention, transport in different dryland types and the progress made in understanding the litter cycle. She concludes by saying that an "assessment of the relative decay rates in these micro sites — and how these patterns change with global change drivers — are key unknowns for future dryland litter cycle studies."
The article, "Connectivity Dynamics in Dryland Litter Cycles: Moving Decomposition beyond Spatial Stasis" is published in the BioScience section of Oxford Academic.