, Volume 72, Issue 1, pp 58-64

Foliage litter turnover and earthworm populations in three beech forests of contrasting soil and vegetation types

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Summary

Leaf litter decomposition, levels of accumulated litter as well as the abundance and biomass of earthworms were measured in three mature beech forests in southern Sweden: one mor site, one poor mull site, and one rich mull site. The disappearance rate of beech litter, measured with litter bags, increased with increasing soil fertility. On the rich mull site, the disappearance rate was much higher than in the two other forests, due to the combined effects of higher earthworm activity, more favouable soil moisture conditions, and higher litter quality. Incubating the litter in finely meshed bags (1-mm mesh) to exclude macrofauna had a great effect on litter mass loss in the rich mull site, but it had only a minor effect in the other sites. Simultaneous incubations of local and transplanted leaf litter on the three study sites showed that the substrate quality of the litter increased in the order: mor site — poor mull site — rich mull site. Lignin, N, and P concentrations of the leaf litter failed to explain the observed differences in decomposition rates, and acid/base properties are suggested to be more important. Earthworm numbers per m2 were 2.5 (1 species) in the mor, 40 (6 species) in the poor mull and 220 (9 species) in the rich mull forest. Soil chemical conditions, notably pH, were suggested as the main factors determining the inter-site differences in abundance and species composition of earthworms. The role of litter decomposition and earthworm activity in the accumulation of organic matter in the forest floor in different types of beech woodlands are discussed.