Purdue Climate Change Research Center

Collaborative Research: Characterizing Climate-Induced Qualitative Changes in Plant biopolymer Composition and Their Influence on Soil Processes

Funded by the National Science Foundation

The productivity of an ecosystem depends on the recycling of nutrients through the process of decomposition. Decomposition is primarily governed by climate and the chemical composition of plant litter. Traditionally, decomposition rates have been estimated using concentrations of carbon, nitrogen, and lignin in the litter. However, the structural characteristics of many hard-to-degrade compounds (biopolymers), including lignins, tannins, and cuticular matrices, can dictate overall decomposition rates. e climate in which plants grow can strongly influence the structural properties of these compounds. Climate change thus has the potential to alter decomposition both directly, by changing temperature and moisture, and also indirectly, by changing the structural attributes of biopolymers in plant litter in ways that are not factored into traditional nutrient cycling models.

This project has three long-term goals. The first goal is to learn how growing season temperature and moisture availability affect the diversity and chemical properties of biopolymers that govern decomposition of plant litter. The second goal is to understand how environmental conditions interact with the chemical composition of litter to affect decomposition and nutrient cycling. The third goal is to develop and test models of decomposition that incorporate new knowledge of the roles of climate and biopolymer properties. The investigators will test these hypotheses using six plant species from the Boston-Area Climate Experiment, which exposes patches of old fields with tree seedlings to twelve possible future climates.

  • Jeffrey Dukes, Forestry & Natural Resources and Biological Sciences
  • Nishanth Tharayil, Clemson University
  • Baoshan Xing, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Carol Adair, University of California Santa Barbara

Contact Information

Purdue University
203 S. Martin Jischke Drive
MANN 105
West Lafayette, IN 47907