, Volume 99, Issue 1-2, pp 95-101

Landscape patterns of litter decomposition in alpine tundra

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Abstract

A two-year study of the decomposition of alpine avens (Acomastylis rossii) foliage in alpine tundra of the Front Range of Colorado demonstrated a strong landscape-mediated effect on decay rates. Litter on sites with intermediate amounts of snowpack decayed more rapidly than litter on sites with larger or smaller amounts of snow. Annual decay constants (k-values) of this foliage ranged from-0.33 in dry tundra to-0.52 in moist tundra to-0.47 in the wettest habitat. No site differences in mass loss of litter were detected until late winter-early spring of the first year of decomposition, when significantly faster decomposition was observed for litter beneath the snowpack. In spite of obvious landscape-related patterns in rates of litter decomposition, total microarthropod densities in the top 5 cm of soil did not differ among habitats. However, the relative abundance of the oribatid and prostigmatid mites did vary significantly across the landscape in relation to the moisture gradient. Oribatid mites comprised a greater proportion of total mites in wetter areas. Microarthropod densities and composition, as well as patterns of decomposition, were compared with previous alpine, as well as arctic tundra, studies. The effects of soil invertebrates on decomposition rates in the alpine were evaluated with a mushroom litterbag decomposition experiment. Naphthalene was used to exclude fauna from a subset of litterbags placed in mesic and xeric habitats. Mushrooms without naphthalene additions decayed significantly faster in the mesic sites. Densities of invertebrates were also greater on mushrooms in these mesic sites. Mushrooms placed in xeric sites generally lacked fauna. Thus, both the activities and the composition of the detritus-based food web appear to change substantially across the moisture gradient found in alpine tundra.