Long-term presence of tree species but not chemical diversity affect litter mixture effects on decomposition in a neotropical rainforest
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- Barantal, S., Roy, J., Fromin, N. et al. Oecologia (2011) 167: 241. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-1966-4
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Plant litter diversity effects on decomposition rates are frequently reported, but with a strong bias towards temperate ecosystems. Altered decomposition and nutrient recycling with changing litter diversity may be particularly important in tree species-rich tropical rainforests on nutrient-poor soils. Using 28 different mixtures of leaf litter from 16 Amazonian rainforest tree species, we tested the hypothesis that litter mixture effects on decomposition increase with increasing functional litter diversity. Litter mixtures and all single litter species were exposed in the field for 9 months using custom-made microcosms with soil fauna access. In order to test the hypothesis that the long-term presence of tree species contributing to the litter mixtures increases mixture effects on decomposition, microcosms were installed in a plantation at sites including the respective tree species composition and in a nearby natural forest where these tree species are absent. We found that mixture decomposition deviated from predictions based on single species, with predominantly synergistic effects. Functional litter diversity, defined as either richness, evenness, or divergence based on a wide range of chemical traits, did not explain the observed litter mixture effects. However, synergistic effects in litter mixtures increased with the long-term presence of tree species contributing to these mixtures as the home field advantage hypothesis assumes. Our data suggest that complementarity effects on mixed litter decomposition may emerge through long-term interactions between aboveground and belowground biota.