, Volume 139, Issue 4, pp 551–559 | Cite as

Feedback interactions between needle litter decomposition and rhizosphere activity

  • Jens-Arne SubkeEmail author
  • Volker Hahn
  • Giovanna Battipaglia
  • Sune Linder
  • Nina Buchmann
  • M. Francesca Cotrufo
Ecosystem Ecology


The aim of our study was to identify interactions between the decomposition of aboveground litter and rhizosphere activity. The experimental approach combined the placement of labelled litter (δ13C=−37.9‰) with forest girdling in a 35-year-old Norway spruce stand, resulting in four different treatment combinations: GL (girdled, litter), GNL (girdled, no litter), NGL (not girdled, litter), and NGNL (not girdled, no litter). Monthly sampling of soil CO2 efflux and δ13C of soil respired CO2 between May and October 2002 allowed the partitioning of the flux into that derived from the labelled litter, and that derived from native soil organic matter and roots. The effect of forest girdling on soil CO2 efflux was detectable from June (girdling took place in April), and resulted in GNL fluxes to be about 50% of NGNL fluxes by late August. The presence of litter resulted in significantly increased fluxes for the first 2 months of the experiment, with significantly greater litter derived fluxes from non-girdled plots and a significant interaction between girdling and litter treatments over the same period. For NGL collars, the additional efflux was found to originate only in part from litter decomposition, but also from the decay of native soil organic matter. In GL collars, this priming effect was not significant, indicating an active role of the rhizosphere in soil priming. The results therefore indicate mutual positive feedbacks between litter decomposition and rhizosphere activity. Soil biological analysis (microbial and fungal biomass) of the organic layers indicated greatest activity below NGL collars, and we suppose that this increase indicates the mechanism of mutual positive feedback between rhizosphere activity and litter decomposition. However, elimination of fresh C input from both above- and belowground (GNL) also resulted in greater fungal abundance than for the NGNL treatment, indicating likely changes in fungal community structure (i.e. a shift from symbiotic to saprotrophic species abundance).


Soil organic matter Stable C isotopes Forest girdling Soil CO2 efflux Microbial biomass 



We would like to thank Ilaria del Galdo for the determination of microbial biomass in soil samples, Karin Sörgel and Michael Patecki for help with field measurements, Armin Jordan and Michael Rothe for CO2 mixing ratio and δ13C analyses of the gas samples, and Mauro Rubino for soil sample δ13C analysis. We also thank Tryggve Persson of the University of Uppsala (Sweden), for supplying data on soil C and N contents. This work was financially supported by the European Commission through the FORCAST project (EKV2-CT−1999–00035) and a Marie Curie Fellowship for J.-A.S. (HPMD-CT−2001–00088).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jens-Arne Subke
    • 1
    Email author
  • Volker Hahn
    • 2
  • Giovanna Battipaglia
    • 1
  • Sune Linder
    • 3
  • Nina Buchmann
    • 2
    • 4
  • M. Francesca Cotrufo
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesSecond University of NaplesCasertaItaly
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for BiogeochemistryJenaGermany
  3. 3.Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  4. 4.Instítute of Plant ScienceZürichSwitzerland

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