From: University of Utah
Published March 3, 2017 10:43 AM

What Global Climate Change May Mean for Leaf Litter in Streams and Rivers

Rate of leaf litter decay — and release of carbon to the atmosphere — may not accelerate as much as previously predicted as temperatures rise

Carbon emissions to the atmosphere from streams and rivers are expected to increase as warmer water temperatures stimulate faster rates of organic matter breakdown.

But a new study led by University of Utah researcher Jennifer J. Follstad Shah, in collaboration with a team of 15 scientists in the U.S. and Europe, suggests these decay rates may not increase as much as expected. In fact, the study indicates average breakdown rates may increase 5 percent to 21 percent with a 1 degree to 4-degree Celsius rise in water temperature — half as much as the 10 percent to 45 percent increase predicted by metabolic theory. Mean annual water temperature for some streams and rivers is currently rising at an annual rate of about 0.01 degrees to 0.1 degrees Celsius due to changes in climate and land use.

The study “Global synthesis of the temperature sensitivity of leaf litter breakdown in streams and rivers” was published Feb. 28 in Global Change Biology.

Read more at University of Utah

Photo: A river in British Columbia where some data were collected and included in our synthesis.

Photo credit: Antoine Lecerf

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