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Keywords:

  • decomposer community composition;
  • decomposition;
  • Gunnera magellanica;
  • litter quality;
  • ozone depletion;
  • ultraviolet-B solar radiation

Abstract

Tierra del Fuego, Argentina (55°S), receives increased solar ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B) as a result of Antarctic stratospheric ozone depletion. We conducted a field study to examine direct and indirect effects of solar UV-B radiation on decomposition of Gunnera magellanica, a native perennial herb, and on the native community of decomposer organisms. In general, indirect effects of UV-B mostly occur due to changes in the chemical composition of litter, whereas direct effects during decomposition result from changes in decomposer organisms and/or differences in the photochemical breakdown of litter. We designed a full-factorial experiment using senescent leaves that had received either near-ambient or attenuated UV-B during growth. The leaves were distributed in litterbags and allowed to decompose under near-ambient or reduced solar UV-B during the growing season. We evaluated initial litter quality, mass loss, and nutrient release of decomposing litter, and microbial colonization of both initial litter and decomposed litter. We found that litter that decomposed under near-ambient UV-B had significantly less mass loss than litter that decomposed under reduced UV-B. The UV-B conditions received by plants during growth, which did not affect mass loss and nutrient composition of litter, affected fungal species composition but in different ways throughout the decomposition period. Before the decomposition trial, Beauveria bassiana and Penicillium frequentans were higher under reduced UV-B, whereas Cladosporium herbarum and pigmented bacteria were more common under the near-ambient compared to the reduced UV-B treatment. After the decomposition period, leaves that had grown under reduced UV-B showed higher frequency of Penicillium thomii and lower frequency of Trichoderma polysporum than leaves that had grown under near-ambient conditions. The UV-B condition received during decomposition also affected fungal colonization, with Penicillium chrysogenum being more frequent in leaves that had decomposed under reduced UV-B, while the other species were not affected. Our results demonstrate that, in this ecosystem, the effects of UV-B radiation on decomposition apparently occurred mostly through changes in the fungal community, while changes in photochemical breakdown appeared to be less important.