A greater abundance of shrubs in semiarid grasslands affects the spatial patterns of soil temperature, moisture, and litter, resulting in fertile islands with potentially enhanced soil metabolic activity. The goal of this study was to quantify the microsite specificity of soil respiration in a semiarid riparian ecosystem experiencing shrub encroachment. We quantified the response of soil respiration to different microsite conditions created by big mesquite shrubs (near the trunk and the canopy edge), medium-sized mesquite, sacaton bunchgrasses, and open spaces. We hypothesized that soil respiration would be more temperature sensitive and less moisture sensitive and have a greater magnitude in shrub microsites compared with grass and open microsites. Field and incubation soil respiration data were simultaneously analyzed in a Bayesian framework to quantify the microsite-specific temperature and moisture sensitivities and magnitude of respiration. The analysis showed that shrub expansion increases the heterogeneity of respiration. Respiration has greater temperature sensitivity near the shrub canopy edge, and respiration rates are higher overall under big mesquite compared with those of the other microsites. Respiration in the microsites beneath medium-sized mesquites does not behave like a downscaled version of big mesquite microsites. The grass microsites show more similarity to big mesquite microsites than medium-sized shrubs. This study shows there can be a great deal of fine-scale spatial heterogeneity that accompanies shifts in vegetation structure. Such complexity presents a challenge in scaling soil respiration fluxes to the landscape for systems experiencing shrub encroachment, but quantifying this complexity is significantly important in determining overall ecosystem metabolic behavior.
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