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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.

PROVIDER: S-EPMC4418737 | BioStudies |

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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