Decomposition of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and pine (Pinus nigra) litter along an Alpine elevation gradient: Decay and nutrient release.
ABSTRACT: Litter decomposition is an important process for cycling of nutrients in terrestrial ecosystems. The objective of this study was to evaluate direct and indirect effects of climate on litter decomposition along an altitudinal gradient in a temperate Alpine region. Foliar litter of European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Black pine (Pinus nigra) was incubated in litterbags during two years in the Hochschwab massif of the Northern Limestone Alps of Austria. Eight incubation sites were selected following an altitudinal/climatic transect from 1900 to 900 m asl. The average remaining mass after two years of decomposition amounted to 54% (beech) and 50% (pine). Net release of N, P, Na, Al, Fe and Mn was higher in pine than in beech litter due to high immobilization (retention) rates of beech litter. However, pine litter retained more Ca than beech litter. Altitude retarded decay (mass loss and associated C release) in beech litter during the first year only but had a longer lasting effect on decaying pine litter. Altitude comprises a suite of highly auto-correlated characteristics (climate, vegetation, litter, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, snow cover) that influence litter decomposition. Hence, decay and nutrient release of incubated litter is difficult to predict by altitude, except during the early stage of decomposition, which seemed to be controlled by climate. Reciprocal litter transplant along the elevation gradient yielded even relatively higher decay of pine litter on beech forest sites after a two-year adaptation period of the microbial community.
Project description:Although the importance of stream condition for leaf litter decomposition has been extensively studied, little is known about how processing rates change in response to altered riparian vegetation community composition. We investigated patterns of plant litter input and decomposition across 20 boreal headwater streams that varied in proportions of riparian deciduous and coniferous trees. We measured a suite of in-stream physical and chemical characteristics, as well as the amount and type of litter inputs from riparian vegetation, and related these to decomposition rates of native (alder, birch, and spruce) and introduced (lodgepole pine) litter species incubated in coarse- and fine-mesh bags. Total litter inputs ranged more than fivefold among sites and increased with the proportion of deciduous vegetation in the riparian zone. In line with differences in initial litter quality, mean decomposition rate was highest for alder, followed by birch, spruce, and lodgepole pine (12, 55, and 68% lower rates, respectively). Further, these rates were greater in coarse-mesh bags that allow colonization by macroinvertebrates. Variance in decomposition rate among sites for different species was best explained by different sets of environmental conditions, but litter-input composition (i.e., quality) was overall highly important. On average, native litter decomposed faster in sites with higher-quality litter input and (with the exception of spruce) higher concentrations of dissolved nutrients and open canopies. By contrast, lodgepole pine decomposed more rapidly in sites receiving lower-quality litter inputs. Birch litter decomposition rate in coarse-mesh bags was best predicted by the same environmental variables as in fine-mesh bags, with additional positive influences of macroinvertebrate species richness. Hence, to facilitate energy turnover in boreal headwaters, forest management with focus on conifer production should aim at increasing the presence of native deciduous trees along streams, as they promote conditions that favor higher decomposition rates of terrestrial plant litter.
Project description:Decomposing litter in forest ecosystems supplies nutrients to plants, carbon to heterotrophic soil microorganisms and is a large source of CO2 to the atmosphere. Despite its essential role in carbon and nutrient cycling, the temperature sensitivity of leaf litter decay in tropical forest ecosystems remains poorly resolved, especially in tropical montane wet forests where the warming trend may be amplified compared to tropical wet forests at lower elevations. We quantified leaf litter decomposition rates along a highly constrained 5.2 °C mean annual temperature (MAT) gradient in tropical montane wet forests on the Island of Hawaii. Dominant vegetation, substrate type and age, soil moisture, and disturbance history are all nearly constant across this gradient, allowing us to isolate the effect of rising MAT on leaf litter decomposition and nutrient release. Leaf litter decomposition rates were a positive linear function of MAT, causing the residence time of leaf litter on the forest floor to decline by ?31 days for each 1 °C increase in MAT. Our estimate of the Q 10 temperature coefficient for leaf litter decomposition was 2.17, within the commonly reported range for heterotrophic organic matter decomposition (1.5-2.5) across a broad range of ecosystems. The percentage of leaf litter nitrogen (N) remaining after six months declined linearly with increasing MAT from ?88% of initial N at the coolest site to ?74% at the warmest site. The lack of net N immobilization during all three litter collection periods at all MAT plots indicates that N was not limiting to leaf litter decomposition, regardless of temperature. These results suggest that leaf litter decay in tropical montane wet forests may be more sensitive to rising MAT than in tropical lowland wet forests, and that increased rates of N release from decomposing litter could delay or prevent progressive N limitation to net primary productivity with climate warming.
Project description:We investigated the effect of leaf litter on below ground carbon export and soil carbon formation in order to understand how litter diversity affects carbon cycling in forest ecosystems. 13C labeled and unlabeled leaf litter of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior), characterized by low and high decomposability, were used in a litter exchange experiment in the Hainich National Park (Thuringia, Germany). Litter was added in pure and mixed treatments with either beech or ash labeled with 13C. We collected soil water in 5 cm mineral soil depth below each treatment biweekly and determined dissolved organic carbon (DOC), ?13C values and anion contents. In addition, we measured carbon concentrations and ?13C values in the organic and mineral soil (collected in 1 cm increments) up to 5 cm soil depth at the end of the experiment. Litter-derived C contributes less than 1% to dissolved organic matter (DOM) collected in 5 cm mineral soil depth. Better decomposable ash litter released significantly more (0.50±0.17%) litter carbon than beech litter (0.17±0.07%). All soil layers held in total around 30% of litter-derived carbon, indicating the large retention potential of litter-derived C in the top soil. Interestingly, in mixed (ash and beech litter) treatments we did not find a higher contribution of better decomposable ash-derived carbon in DOM, O horizon or mineral soil. This suggest that the known selective decomposition of better decomposable litter by soil fauna has no or only minor effects on the release and formation of litter-derived DOM and soil organic matter. Overall our experiment showed that 1) litter-derived carbon is of low importance for dissolved organic carbon release and 2) litter of higher decomposability is faster decomposed, but litter diversity does not influence the carbon flow.
Project description:Altitude is a determining factor of ecosystem properties and processes in mountains. This study investigated the changes in the concentrations of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) and their ratios in four key ecosystem components (forest floor litter, fine roots, soil, and soil microorganisms) along an altitudinal gradient (from 50 m to 950 m a.s.l.) in subtropical China. The results showed that soil organic C and microbial biomass C concentrations increased linearly with increasing altitude. Similar trends were observed for concentrations of total soil N and microbial biomass N. In contrast, the N concentration of litter and fine roots decreased linearly with altitude. With increasing altitude, litter, fine roots, and soil C:N ratios increased linearly, while the C:N ratio of soil microbial biomass did not change significantly. Phosphorus concentration and C:P and N:P ratios of all ecosystem components generally had nonlinear relationships with altitude. Our results indicate that the altitudinal pattern of plant and soil nutrient status differs among ecosystem components and that the relative importance of P vs. N limitation for ecosystem functions and processes shifts along altitudinal gradients.
Project description:The effects of leaf litter on moisture content and fungal decay development in above-ground wood specimens were assessed. Untreated southern pine specimens were exposed with or without leaf litter contact. Two types of leaf litter were evaluated; aged (decomposed) and young (early stages of decomposition). The moisture content of specimens was monitored, and specimens were periodically removed for visual evaluation of decay development. In addition, amplicon-based sequencing analysis of specimens and associated leaf litter was conducted at two time points. Contact with either type of leaf litter resulted in consistently higher moisture contents than those not in contact with leaf litter. Visually, evident decay developed most rapidly in specimens in contact with the aged leaf litter. Analysis of amplicon-based sequencing revealed that leaf litter contributes a significant amount of the available wood decay fungal community with similar communities found in the litter exposed wood and litter itself, but dissimilar community profiles from unexposed wood. Dominant species and guild composition shifted over time, beginning initially with more leaf saprophytes (ascomycetes) and over time shifting to more wood rotting fungi (basidiomycetes). These results highlight the importance of the contributions of leaf litter to fungal colonization and subsequent decay hazard for above-ground wood.
Project description:We investigated how altitude affects the decomposition of leaf and root litter in the Andean tropical montane rainforest of southern Ecuador, that is, through changes in the litter quality between altitudes or other site-specific differences in microenvironmental conditions. Leaf litter from three abundant tree species and roots of different diameter from sites at 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 m were placed in litterbags and incubated for 6, 12, 24, 36, and 48 months. Environmental conditions at the three altitudes and the sampling time were the main factors driving litter decomposition, while origin, and therefore quality of the litter, was of minor importance. At 2,000 and 3,000 m decomposition of litter declined for 12 months reaching a limit value of ~50% of initial and not decomposing further for about 24 months. After 36 months, decomposition commenced at low rates resulting in an average of 37.9% and 44.4% of initial remaining after 48 months. In contrast, at 1,000 m decomposition continued for 48 months until only 10.9% of the initial litter mass remained. Changes in decomposition rates were paralleled by changes in microorganisms with microbial biomass decreasing after 24 months at 2,000 and 3,000 m, while varying little at 1,000 m. The results show that, irrespective of litter origin (1,000, 2,000, 3,000 m) and type (leaves, roots), unfavorable microenvironmental conditions at high altitudes inhibit decomposition processes resulting in the sequestration of carbon in thick organic layers.
Project description:Decomposition of vegetal detritus is one of the most fundamental ecosystem processes. In complex landscapes, the fate of litter of terrestrial plants may depend on whether it ends up decomposing in terrestrial or aquatic conditions. However, (1) to what extent decomposition rates are controlled by environmental conditions or by detritus type, and (2) how important the composition of the detritivorous fauna is in mediating decomposition in different habitats, remain as unanswered questions. We incubated two contrasting detritus types in three distinct habitat types in Coastal Georgia, USA, to test the hypotheses that (1) the litter fauna composition depends on the habitat and the litter type available, and (2) litter mass loss (as a proxy for decomposition) depends on environmental conditions (habitat) and the litter type. We found that the abundance of most taxa of the litter fauna depends primarily on habitat. Litter type became a stronger driver for some taxa over time, but the overall faunal composition was only weakly affected by litter type. Decomposition also depends strongly on habitat, with up to ca. 80% of the initial detrital mass lost over 25 months in the marsh and forest habitats, but less than 50% lost in the creek bank habitat. Mass loss rates of oak versus pine litter differed initially but converged within habitat types within 12 months. We conclude that, although the habitat type is the principle driver of the community composition of the litter fauna, litter type is a significant driver of litter mass loss in the early stages of the decomposition process. With time, however, litter types become more and more similar, and habitat becomes the dominating factor in determining decomposition of older litter. Thus, the major driver of litter mass loss changes over time from being the litter type in the early stages to the habitat (environmental conditions) in later stages.
Project description:Short-term acceleration of soil organic matter decomposition by increasing temperature conflicts with the thermal adaptation observed in long-term studies. Here we used the altitudinal gradient on Mt. Kilimanjaro to demonstrate the mechanisms of thermal adaptation of extra- and intracellular enzymes that hydrolyze cellulose, chitin and phytate and oxidize monomers ((14)C-glucose) in warm- and cold-climate soils. We revealed that no response of decomposition rate to temperature occurs because of a cancelling effect consisting in an increase in half-saturation constants (Km), which counteracts the increase in maximal reaction rates (Vmax with temperature). We used the parameters of enzyme kinetics to predict thresholds of substrate concentration (Scrit) below which decomposition rates will be insensitive to global warming. Increasing values of Scrit, and hence stronger canceling effects with increasing altitude on Mt. Kilimanjaro, explained the thermal adaptation of polymer decomposition. The reduction of the temperature sensitivity of Vmax along the altitudinal gradient contributed to thermal adaptation of both polymer and monomer degradation. Extrapolating the altitudinal gradient to the large-scale latitudinal gradient, these results show that the soils of cold climates with stronger and more frequent temperature variation are less sensitive to global warming than soils adapted to high temperatures.
Project description:Mass loss and nutrient release during litter decomposition drive biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. However, the relationship between the litter decomposition process and the decomposition stage, precipitation, and litter quality has rarely been addressed, precluding our understanding of how litter decomposition regulates nutrient cycling in various ecosystems and their responses to climate change. In this study, we measured mass loss as well as carbon and nutrient releases during the decomposition of 16 types of leaf litter under three precipitation treatments over 12 months in a common garden experiment (i.e., using standardized soil and climatic conditions). Sixteen types of leaves were divided into three functional groups (evergreen, deciduous, and herbaceous). The objectives were to understand the effects of decomposition stages and precipitation regimes on litter decomposition and to examine the relationship between this effect and chemical properties. The mass loss and release of nitrogen and potassium were significantly higher in the 6- to 12-month stage of decomposition (high temperature and humidity) than in the 0- to 6-month stage. Phosphorus was relatively enriched in evergreen leaves after 6 months of decomposition. The rates of mass loss and nutrient release were significantly greater in herbaceous than in deciduous and evergreen leaves. Increasing precipitation from 400 to 800 mm accelerated mass loss and potassium release but decreased phosphorus release in the 0- to 6-month stage of decomposition. These results highlighted the contribution to and complexity of litter chemical properties in litter decomposition.
Project description:Upward shifts of alpine treelines and shrub expansion are occurring under climate change, and Abies faxoniana (AF) and Rhododendron lapponicum (RL) may become distributed at higher altitudes. How do abiotic factors and litter quality modulate the effects of soil fauna on carbon release in this context? A field decomposition experiment involving the foliar litter of AF and RL was conducted along an elevation gradient encompassing coniferous forest, alpine shrubland and alpine meadow by using litterbags with different mesh sizes (3 and 0.04?mm). The objective was to determine the influences of soil fauna, litter quality and abiotic factors on species-specific carbon release and their contributions during litter decomposition. Our findings demonstrated that higher soil fauna abundance and diversity facilitated litter carbon release. The contribution rates of soil fauna to carbon release (C<sub>fau</sub>) decreased with elevation increasing and decomposition time. C<sub>fau</sub> are influenced by soil faunal diversity, dominant fauna groups (Collembola, Oribatida, Mesostigmata), and abiotic factors (temperature). Soil fauna significantly and directly regulated carbon release, abiotic factors indirectly regulated carbon release via altering soil fauna community composition and litter quality. This study improve our understanding in the mechanisms of decomposer contributions to carbon cycling in the context of global climate change.