, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 999-1018

First online:

Tree Species Effects on Soil Organic Matter Dynamics: The Role of Soil Cation Composition

  • Sarah E. HobbieAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota Email author 
  • , Megan OgdahlAffiliated withDepartment of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota
  • , Jon ChoroverAffiliated withDepartment of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, University of Arizona
  • , Oliver A. ChadwickAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of California
  • , Jacek OleksynAffiliated withPolish Academy of Sciences, Institute of DendrologyDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota
  • , Roma ZytkowiakAffiliated withPolish Academy of Sciences, Institute of Dendrology
  • , Peter B. ReichAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota

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We studied the influence of tree species on soil carbon and nitrogen (N) dynamics in a common garden of replicated monocultures of fourteen angiosperm and gymnosperm, broadleaf and needleleaf species in southwestern Poland. We hypothesized that species would influence soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition primarily via effects on biogeochemical recalcitrance, with species having tissues with high lignin concentrations retarding rates of decomposition in the O and A horizons. Additionally, because prior work demonstrated substantial divergence in foliar and soil base cation concentrations and soil pH among species, we hypothesized that species would influence chemical stabilization of SOM via cation bridging to mineral surfaces in the A-horizon. Our hypotheses were only partially supported: SOM decomposition and microbial biomass were unrelated to plant tissue lignin concentrations, but in the mineral horizon, were significantly negatively related to the percentage of the cation exchange complex (CEC) occupied by polyvalent acidic (hydrolyzing) cations (Al and Fe), likely because these cations stabilize SOM via cation bridging and flocculation and/or because of inhibitory effects of Al or low pH on decomposers. Percent CEC occupied by exchangeable Al and Fe was in turn related to both soil clay content (a parent material characteristic) and root Ca concentrations (a species characteristic). In contrast, species influenced soil N dynamics largely via variation in tissue N concentration. In both laboratory and in situ assays, species having high-N roots exhibited faster rates of net N mineralization and nitrification. Nitrification:mineralization ratios were greater, though, under species with high exchangeable soil Ca2+. Our results indicate that tree species contribute to variation in SOM dynamics, even in the mineral soil horizons. To our knowledge the influence of tree species on SOM decomposition via cation biogeochemistry has not been demonstrated previously, but could be important in other poorly buffered systems dominated by tree species that differ in cation nutrition or that are influenced by acidic deposition.

Key words

aluminum; carbon; decomposition; microbial biomass; nitrogen; Poland; respiration; soil organic matter; trees