, Volume 331, Issue 1-2, pp 377-389
Date: 15 Jan 2010

Fertilization and litter effects on the functional group biomass, species diversity of plants, microbial biomass, and enzyme activity of two alpine meadow communities

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Abstract

We conducted a field experiment in two alpine meadows to investigate the short-term effects of nitrogen enrichment and plant litter biomass on plant species richness, the percent cover of functional groups, soil microbial biomass, and enzyme activity in two alpine meadow communities. The addition of nitrogen fertilizer to experimental plots over two growing seasons increased plant production, as indicated by increases in both the living plant biomass and litter biomass in the Kobresia humilis meadow community. In contrast, fertilization had no significant effect on the amounts of living biomass and litter biomass in the K. tibetica meadow. The litter treatment results indicate that litter removal significantly increased the living biomass and decreased the litter biomass in the K. humilis meadow; however, litter-removal and litter-intact treatments had no impact on the amounts of living biomass and litter biomass in the K. tibetica meadow. Litter production depended on the degree of grass cover and was also influenced by nitrogen enrichment. The increase in plant biomass reflects a strong positive effect of nitrogen enrichment and litter removal on grasses in the K. humilis meadow. Neither fertilization nor litter removal had any impact on the grass biomass in the K. tibetica meadow. Sedge biomass was not significantly affected by either nutrient enrichment or litter removal in either alpine meadow community. The plant species richness decreased in the K. humilis meadow following nitrogen addition. In the K. humilis meadow, microbial biomass C increased significantly in response to the nitrogen enrichment and litter removal treatments. Enzyme activities differed depending on the enzyme and the different alpine meadow communities; in general, enzyme activities were higher in the upper soil layers (0–10 cm and 10–20 cm) than in the lower soil layers (20–40 cm). The amounts of living plant biomass and plant litter biomass in response to the different treatments of the two alpine meadow communities affected the soil microbial biomass C, soil organic C, and soil fertility. These results suggest that the original soil conditions, plant community composition, and community productivity are very important in regulating plant community productivity and microbial biomass and activity.

Responsible Editor: Wim van der Putten.