, Volume 173, Issue 1, pp 269-280
Date: 06 Jan 2013

Leaf litter quality drives litter mixing effects through complementary resource use among detritivores

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Abstract

To comprehend the potential consequences of biodiversity loss on the leaf litter decomposition process, a better understanding of its underlying mechanisms is necessary. Here, we hypothesize that positive litter mixture effects occur via complementary resource use, when litter species complement each other in terms of resource quality for detritivores. To investigate this, monocultures and mixtures of two leaf litter species varying in quality were allowed to decompose with and without a single macro-detritivore species (the terrestrial woodlice Oniscus asellus). Resource quality of the mixture was assessed by the mean concentration, the dissimilarity in absolute and relative concentrations, and the covariance between nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and calcium (Ca) supply. Our results clearly show that litter mixing effects were driven by differences in their resource quality for detritivores. In particular, complementary supply of N and P was a major driver of litter mixing effects. Interestingly, litter mixing effects caused by the addition of woodlice were predominantly driven by N dissimilarity, whereas in their absence, increased P concentration was the main driver of litter mixing effects. These results show that ultimately, litter diversity effects on decomposition may be driven by complementary resource use of the whole decomposer community (i.e., microbes and macro-detritivores).

Communicated by Michael Madritch.