A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways


Thibault Datry
Arnaud Foulquier
Roland Corti
Daniel Von Schiller
Klement Tockner
Clara Mendoza-Lera
Mark O. Gessner
Marcos Moleón
Rachel Stubbington
Björn Gücker
R. Albarinõ
Daniel C. Allen
Florian Altermatt
María I. Arce
Shai Arnon
D. Banas
A. Banegas-Medina
Erin E. Beller
Melanie L. Blanchette
Juan Felipe Blanco-Libreros
J. J. Blessing
Iola G. Boëchat
Kate S. Boersma
Michael T. Bogan
Núria Bonada
Nick R. Bond
K. C. Brintrup Barriá
Andreas Bruder
R. M. Burrows
Tommaso Cancellario
Cristin M. Canhoto
Stephanie M. Carlson
Sophie Cauvy-Fraunié
Núria Cid
Michaël Danger
Bianca De Freitas Terra
Anna M. De Girolamo
Evans De La Barra
R. Del Campo
Verónica D. Díaz-Villanueva
Fiona J. Dyer
Arturo Elosegi
E. Faye
Catherine M. Febria
Brian Four
Sarig Gafny
Sudeep D. Ghate
R. Gómez
Lluís Gómez-Gener
Manuel A. Graça, Edith Cowan University
Simone Guareschi
Felicitas Hoppeler
Jason L. Hwan
J. I. Jones
S. Kubheka
Alex Laini
Simone D. Langhans
Catherine Leigh
Chelsea J. Little
Stefan Lorenz
Jonathan C. Marshall
Eduardo J. Martín
Angus R. McIntosh
Elisabeth I. Meyer
Marko Miliša
M. C. Mlambo
Manuela Morais
N. Moya
Peter M. Negus
D. K. Niyogi
Athina Papatheodoulou
Isabel Pardo
Petr Pařil
S. U. Pauls
Vladimir M. Pešić
Marek Polášek
Christopher T. Robinson
Pablo Rodríguez-Lozano
Robert J. Rolls
María M. Sánchez-Montoya
Ana V. Savić
O. Shumilova
Kandikere R. Sridhar
Alisha L. Steward
Richard G. Storey
Amina Taleb
A. Uzan
Ross Vander Vorste
Nathan J. Waltham
Cleo Woelfle-Erskine
Dominik Zak
Christiane Zarfl
Annamaria Zoppini

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Nature Geoscience


Nature Publishing Group

Place of Publication

United Kingdom


School of Science / Mine Water and Environment Research Centre




Datry, T., Foulquier, A., Corti, R., Schiller, D., Tockner, K., Mendoza-Lera, C., ... & Gücker, B. (2018). A global analysis of terrestrial plant litter dynamics in non-perennial waterways. Nature Geoscience, 11(7), 497-503. Available here.


Perennial rivers and streams make a disproportionate contribution to global carbon (C) cycling. However, the contribution of intermittent rivers and ephemeral streams (IRES), which sometimes cease to flow and can dry completely, is largely ignored although they represent over half the global river network. Substantial amounts of terrestrial plant litter (TPL) accumulate in dry riverbeds and, upon rewetting, this material can undergo rapid microbial processing. We present the results of a global research collaboration that collected and analysed TPL from 212 dry riverbeds across major environmental gradients and climate zones. We assessed litter decomposability by quantifying the litter carbon-to-nitrogen ratio and oxygen (O2) consumption in standardized assays and estimated the potential short-term CO2 emissions during rewetting events. Aridity, cover of riparian vegetation, channel width and dry-phase duration explained most variability in the quantity and decomposability of plant litter in IRES. Our estimates indicate that a single pulse of CO2 emission upon litter rewetting contributes up to 10% of the daily CO2 emission from perennial rivers and stream, particularly in temperate climates. This indicates that the contributions of IRES should be included in global C-cycling assessments.



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