, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 608-613

Leaf litter quality and decomposition rates of yellow birch and sugar maple seedlings grown in mono-culture and mixed-culture pots at three soil fertility levels

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Abstract

Seedlings of yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britton) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) were grown for 2 years in mono-culture and mixed-culture and at three fertility levels. Following the second growing season, senescent leaves were analysed for N concentration, acid hydrolysable substances (AHS), and nonhydrolysable remains (NHR). A litter sub-sample was then inoculated with indigenous soil microflora, incubated 14 weeks, and mass loss was measured. Litter-N was significantly higher at medium than at poor fertility, as well as in yellow birch than in sugar maple litter. The species effect on litter-N increased with increasing fertility. At medium fertility, litter-N of sugar maple litter was lower in mixed-culture than in mono-culture. AHS, NHR as well the NHR/N ratio were significantly higher in yellow birch than in sugar maple litter. At medium fertility, the NHR/N ratio of sugar maple litter was significantly lower in mono-culture than in mixed-culture. Mass loss was significantly greater at medium and rich fertility than at poor fertility, and in yellow birch than in sugar maple litter. At poor fertility, mixed-litter decomposed at a rate comparable to yellow birch, whereas at medium and rich fertility, mixed-litter decomposed at a rate comparable to sugar maple. There was a significant positive relationship between litter-N and mass loss. A similar positive relationship between NHR and mass loss was presumed to be a “species” effect on decomposition. Results support the hypothesis that species × fertility and species × mixture interactions can be important determinants of litter quality and, by implication, of site nutrient cycling.