Root litter decomposition rates and impacts of drought are regulated by ecosystem legacy

Nicholas Glass, Eduardo Dias de Oliveira, Brenda Molano-Flores, Roser Matamala, Christopher J. Whelan, Miquel A. Gonzalez-Meler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In grassland ecosystems, about two-thirds of productivity is in roots, and therefore roots constitute a major soil organic matter input. However, influences on the rate of root litter decomposition remain unresolved, especially in the context of land-use conversion and climate change. Ecosystem legacy can affect root decomposition rates via impacts on substrate chemistry and soil environments, and this may manifest in responses of decomposition to changing temperature and moisture. Here we investigate the impacts of anthropogenic legacy effects and moderate drought on root litter decomposition rates in five “Land Use History Types”: crop fields, cow pastures, remnant tallgrass prairie, and prairie restored from crop fields and pastures. We measured root losses of mass, carbon, and nitrogen over 11 months. Soil bulk density was unimportant for decomposition, but soil moisture content and temperature were relevant for decomposition rates while time since disturbance predicted decomposition initiation times. Furthermore, soil moisture and temperature dynamics alone could not explain the responses of decomposition rates to drought, which were positively correlated to time since disturbance. Our findings suggest that anthropogenic legacy impacts decomposition rates in grasslands, especially when soil moisture and temperature dynamics are substantially altered, and mediates soil community responses to drought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104903
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • Decomposition
  • Drought
  • Legacy
  • Memory
  • Moisture
  • Tallgrass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Soil Science


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