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Biology professor and student co-author paper on the effects of UV on litter decomposition

 Dr. Barnes and Biology alumna, Michele Abbene, who is currently studying at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University publish paper on litter decomposition. The paper: "Soil Coverage Reduces Photodegradation and Promotes the Development of Soil-Microbial Films on Dryland Leaf Litter" was published in Ecosystems.

The research in this article addresses how UV in sunlight together with soil erosion influences the decomposition of dead plant material (litter). Decomposition, or the decay of dead plant material (litter), determines how quickly nutrients move from plants to the soil, and also how much carbon is stored in the soil and atmosphere. Thus, its a critical process that can influence our atmosphere and climate change. Because arid and semiarid ecosystems occupy a significant amount of the land surface of planet earth, decomposition in these ecosystems has a large influence on global carbon storage and emissions.

Unfortunately, ecologists do not fully understand what determines how quickly litter decomposes in deserts and other water-limited environments. While other scientists have shown that the UV in sunlight can degrade litter in these dryland ecosystems, others have argued that the covering of ground litter by moving soil is more important. This study is the first to examine these two processes together. Dr. Barnes and his co-authors found that UV can cause litter to decompose but soil coverage reduces this influence. Moreover, when soil covers litter it creates a "microcosm" of litter, soil and microbes (bacteria and fungi) that fosters decomposition. This paper proposes a new way of looking at decomposition in dryland ecosystems by integrating a physical process (photodegradation) with microbial processes.