Solar Photochemical Emission of CO2 From Leaf Litter: Sources and Significance to C Loss

Thomas A. Day, Michael S. Bliss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Although photodegradation can be a significant mechanism of plant litter decay in drylands, the abiotic photochemical emission component of this process is not well characterized. We measured the temperature response of abiotic photochemical emission of CO2 from 12 litter types under midday sunlight in the Sonoran Desert, assessed what litter traits predicted emission rates, and estimated its significance to litter C loss. Emission rates increased exponentially with temperature (Q10= 1.75) and declined as litter decayed. Rates varied substantially among litter types. Microbial respiration rates of litter explained the most variation in emission rates at lower temperature (78% at 45 °C), suggesting that compounds amenable to microbial consumption were major precursors of emission. In contrast, wax concentrations explained the most variation at high temperature (76% at 70 °C), implying that precursors shifted with temperature. Photochemical emission of initial litter at 55 °C was a strong predictor of the mass loss of litter in full sunlight over 34 months in the field, explaining 67% of the variation among litter types. We estimate that photochemical emission of CO2 was responsible for 10% of all C lost from litter in sunlight over 34 months and accounted for 39% of the greater C lost from litter in sunlight compared to litter that did not receive sunlight in the UV to blue wavelength bands. Hence, abiotic photodegradation via photochemical emission appeared to be a significant pathway for C loss from sunlit litter. The substantial exponential increase in photochemical emission with temperature illustrates that temperature needs to be considered in assessments of abiotic photodegradation and implies this process will be greatest in systems where litter is exposed to high solar irradiance in conjunction with high temperatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1344-1361
Number of pages18
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Decay
  • Drylands
  • Litter decomposition
  • Photochemical emission
  • Photodegradation
  • Solar radiation
  • Sonoran Desert
  • UV radiation
  • Waxes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Solar Photochemical Emission of CO2 From Leaf Litter: Sources and Significance to C Loss'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this