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Does species richness of subtropical tree leaf litter affect decomposition, nutrient release, transfer and subsequent uptake by plants?


Leppert, Katrin N; Niklaus, Pascal A; Scherer-Lorenzen, Michael (2017). Does species richness of subtropical tree leaf litter affect decomposition, nutrient release, transfer and subsequent uptake by plants? Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 115:44-53.

Abstract

During leaf litter decomposition, nutrients are released, can be transferred among different litter species, are metabolized by soil organisms and are taken up by plants again. However, it remains unclear to which extent leaf litter species richness affects these processes of nutrient cycling, and whether effects on one of those processes propagate to the subsequent one. We established a common garden decomposition experiment in a Chinese subtropical secondary forest, to trace two essential nutrients during decomposition and their uptake by plants along a litter species diversity gradient. Unlabelled, and 15N and Li (as surrogate for K) labelled leaves of three native tree species were used to create replicated 1-, 2- and 3-species mixtures, each with one species labelled per mixture. Litter mixtures were placed in mesocosms with one growing herbaceous phytometer plant. Over six months, litter and phytometer plants of each mixture were sampled at four points in time and the different process steps of nutrient dynamics were determined. Our results showed species and nutrient specific decomposition dynamics, which propagated through the processes of mass loss, nutrient release and transfer among species, and nutrient uptake dynamics of phytometer plants. However, we found no litter species diversity effects along the different litter decomposition processes. Rather specific diversity effects occurred in few cases at different points in time for mass loss, Li release and transfer dynamics. These effects were not caused by nutrient transfer from labelled to unlabelled litter, suggesting that species identity effects on decomposer dynamics may outweigh effects of nutrient transfer among litter species in mixtures. Further, the observed litter species diversity effects did not affect the 15N uptake of phytometer plants. Hence, the influence of species diversity on nutrient cycling and plant available nutrient stocks is mainly determined by the amount and variety of chemical compounds that different species exhibit and release to the soil.

Abstract

During leaf litter decomposition, nutrients are released, can be transferred among different litter species, are metabolized by soil organisms and are taken up by plants again. However, it remains unclear to which extent leaf litter species richness affects these processes of nutrient cycling, and whether effects on one of those processes propagate to the subsequent one. We established a common garden decomposition experiment in a Chinese subtropical secondary forest, to trace two essential nutrients during decomposition and their uptake by plants along a litter species diversity gradient. Unlabelled, and 15N and Li (as surrogate for K) labelled leaves of three native tree species were used to create replicated 1-, 2- and 3-species mixtures, each with one species labelled per mixture. Litter mixtures were placed in mesocosms with one growing herbaceous phytometer plant. Over six months, litter and phytometer plants of each mixture were sampled at four points in time and the different process steps of nutrient dynamics were determined. Our results showed species and nutrient specific decomposition dynamics, which propagated through the processes of mass loss, nutrient release and transfer among species, and nutrient uptake dynamics of phytometer plants. However, we found no litter species diversity effects along the different litter decomposition processes. Rather specific diversity effects occurred in few cases at different points in time for mass loss, Li release and transfer dynamics. These effects were not caused by nutrient transfer from labelled to unlabelled litter, suggesting that species identity effects on decomposer dynamics may outweigh effects of nutrient transfer among litter species in mixtures. Further, the observed litter species diversity effects did not affect the 15N uptake of phytometer plants. Hence, the influence of species diversity on nutrient cycling and plant available nutrient stocks is mainly determined by the amount and variety of chemical compounds that different species exhibit and release to the soil.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:22 Feb 2018 15:00
Last Modified:14 Mar 2018 18:05
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0038-0717
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2017.08.007

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