A paper published by a University of Montana alumnus received special recognition by the Faculty of 1,000 for its look at the role tree-leaf litter plays in regulating organic carbons stored in soil.
Jonathon Leff, a UM alumnus, conducted the study with researchers from the universities of Colorado and New Hampshire. The resulting paper appeared in the September issue of Global Change Biology.
Aided by associate professor Cory Cleveland at UM’s College of Forestry and Conservation, Leff studied the relationship between the amount of carbon added by plants, the organic carbons stored in soil, and the level of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere through decomposition.
Changes in the relationship could have important effects on the global carbon cycle, and the climate system as a whole, the study suggests.
Leff found that deforestation and agriculture have decreased the input of plant-based carbons into the soils of tropical forests. At the same time, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere has increased.
The effects increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have on underground carbon cycling aren’t well known, Leff said.
But some data suggest that temperature increases could cause a drop in the productivity of tropical forests, and that could lead to a net loss in soil carbons.
The end result, he said, could enhance the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, essentially accelerating climate warming.
The study also suggests that changes in the amount of leaf litter on the forest floor – something that’s decreasing with continued deforestation and agriculture – could impact carbon cycling on a global scale.
Leff’s paper, “Experimental litterfall manipulation drives large and rapid changes in soil carbon cycling in a wet tropical forest,” was published in September and was recognized by the Faculty of 1,000.
The Faculty of 1,000 is a directory of top articles in biology and medicine based on the recommendations of 5,000 of the world’s leading scientists and clinical researchers, and another 5,000 associates who work with them.