Comparable early-stage decomposition but contrasting underlying drivers between surface and cave habitats along an elevational gradient

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Decomposition is a major contributor to ecosystem respiration, determining the carbon emission and nutrient cycling rates. Our current understanding of decomposition dynamics and their underlying drivers has mainly focused on surface habitats but largely ignored in subterranean environments. Here we studied abiotic and microbial drivers of early-stage litter decomposition inside and outside caves along an elevational gradient in Tenerife. We found comparable decomposition rates (k) and litter stabilizing factors (S), with contrasting drivers and elevational variation. At the surface, we observed a mid-elevational trend in k, which tended to correlate with water availability, cooler temperatures, nutrient availability, and surface-specific bacterial taxa. In sharp contrast, caves showed no elevational impact nor influence of abiotic parameters and bacterial communities on k. Despite this, we found higher levels of S in caves, which were associated mainly with reduced water availability, lower temperatures and cave-specific bacterial taxa, indicating that conditions in caves are strongly linked with carbon storage. Our findings imply that our current perception of terrestrial habitat-based carbon cycling are underestimating the net carbon budget in areas with caves. Disentangling the role of the environment on decomposition in caves is key to fully characterize their roles in nutrient cycling and to understand how increasing anthropogenic pressures will affect fundamental processes in subterranean ecosystems.

TidsskriftEcological Indicators
Antal sider12
StatusUdgivet - 2023

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by research grants (15471 to ASR and 15560 to KAJ) from the VILLUM FONDEN and from the Carlsbergfondet (CF19-0609 to ASR and CF17–0248 to KAJ), and by Portuguese National Funds through “Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia” (FCT) within the cE3c Unit funding UIDB/00329/2020. Permits for collecting in caves were obtained from Cabildo de Tenerife and Teide National Park. Alfredo Lainez (Benisahare Caving Club) and Cabildo de Tenerife forest rangers facilitated the access to some caves. Unilever Denmark kindly provided the Lipton Green and Rooibos tea bags for the experiment.

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© 2023

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