Do degree and rate of silicate weathering depend on plant productivity?

Oeser, Ralf A.; von Blanckenburg, Friedhelm

Plants and their associated below-ground microbiota possess the tools for rock weathering. Yet the quantitative evaluation of the impact of these biogenic weathering drivers relative to abiogenic parameters, such as the supply of primary minerals, water, and acids, is an open question in Critical Zone research. Here we present a novel strategy to decipher the relative impact of these drivers. We quantified the degree and rate of weathering and compared these to nutrient uptake along the “EarthShape” transect in the Chilean Coastal Cordillera. These sites define a major north–south gradient in precipitation and primary productivity but overlie granitoid rock throughout. We present a dataset of the chemistry of Critical Zone compartments (bedrock, regolith, soil, and vegetation) to quantify the relative loss of soluble elements (the “degree of weathering”) and the inventory of bioavailable elements. We use inline-formula87Sr∕86Sr isotope ratios to identify the sources of mineral nutrients to plants. With rates from cosmogenic nuclides and biomass growth we determined fluxes (“weathering rates”), meaning the rate of loss of elements out of the ecosystems, averaged over weathering timescales (millennia), and quantified mineral nutrient recycling between the bulk weathering zone and the bulk vegetation cover. We found that neither the degree of weathering nor the weathering rates increase systematically with precipitation from north to south along the climate and vegetation gradient. Instead, the increase in biomass nutrient demand is accommodated by faster nutrient recycling. In the absence of an increase in weathering rate despite a five-fold increase in precipitation and net primary productivity (NPP), we hypothesize that plant growth might in fact dampen weathering rates. Because plants are thought to be key players in the global silicate weathering–carbon feedback, this hypothesis merits further evaluation.

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Oeser, Ralf A. / von Blanckenburg, Friedhelm: Do degree and rate of silicate weathering depend on plant productivity?. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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