, Volume 366, Issue 1-2, pp 107-118
Date: 17 Aug 2012

Mass loss and nutrient dynamics during litter decomposition under three mixing treatments in a typical steppe in Inner Mongolia

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Background and aims

Mixing effects during litter decomposition could occur between two or more different litter species because of the potential nutrient transfer. However, evidence of mixing effects is variable and the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Using a three-year decomposition experiment, we aim to examine for the effects of litter mixing and position on decomposition rates and nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) dynamics.


We studied litter decomposition of Stipa krylovii (Sk) and Astragalus galactites (Ag), two dominant species with contrasting litter quality, in a typical steppe of northern China in both single decomposition and three mixing treatments. The three mixing treatments included thorough mixing (Sk-Ag), Ag over Sk (Ag/Sk), and Sk over Ag (Sk/Ag).


Both the Sk-Ag and the Sk/Ag mixture had negative mixing effects on the mass loss of the litter mixture, while the Ag/Sk mixture had a neutral mixing effect. The percent mass loss was higher when the litter species was placed at the top (25.0 and 51.9 % of mass remaining for Ag and Sk, respectively) than at the bottom (38.3 and 61.8 % of mass remaining for Ag and Sk, respectively). The Sk/Ag mixture had negative effects on the release of N while all three mixing treatments had positive effects on the release of P.


Our results indicate that: (1) mixing treatments can induce different mixing effects; (2) environmental factors likely play an important role in controlling the mixing effect; and (3) litter-mixtures have different non-additive effects on N and P, which may further increase the heterogeneity of N and P availability as the two litter species may fall differentially in terms of space and time.