, Volume 142, Issue 3, pp 465–473 | Cite as

Interactive effects of elevated CO2, N deposition and climate change on plant litter quality in a California annual grassland

  • Hugh A. L. HenryEmail author
  • Elsa E. Cleland
  • Christopher B. Field
  • Peter M. Vitousek
Global Change Ecology


Although global changes can alter ecosystem nutrient dynamics indirectly as a result of their effects on plant litter quality, the interactive effects of global changes on plant litter remain largely unexplored in natural communities. We investigated the effects of elevated CO2, N deposition, warming and increased precipitation on the composition of organic compounds in plant litter in a fully-factorial experiment conducted in a California annual grassland. While lignin increased within functional groups under elevated CO2, this effect was attenuated by warming in grasses and by water additions in forbs. CO2-induced increases in lignin within functional groups also were counteracted by an increase in the relative biomass of forbs, which contained less lignin than grasses. Consequently, there was no net change in the overall lignin content of senesced tissue at the plot level under elevated CO2. Nitrate additions increased N in both grass and forb litter, although this effect was attenuated by water additions. Relative to changes in N within functional groups, changes in functional group dominance had a minor effect on overall litter N at the plot level. Nitrate additions had the strongest effect on decomposition, increasing lignin losses from Avena litter and interacting with water additions to increase decomposition of litter of other grasses. Increases in lignin that resulted from elevated CO2 had no effect on decomposition but elevated CO2 increased N losses from Avena litter. Overall, the interactions among elements of global change were as important as single-factor effects in influencing plant litter chemistry. However, with the exception of variation in N, litter quality had little influence on decomposition over the short term.


Carbon dioxide Decomposition Global warming Lignin Precipitation 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation through a Biocomplexity Grant to Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Additional funding was provided by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada through a postdoctoral fellowship to H.A.L.H. E.E.C. was supported by a U.S. Department of Energy Global Change Education Program GREF Fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hugh A. L. Henry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elsa E. Cleland
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christopher B. Field
    • 2
  • Peter M. Vitousek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Global EcologyCarnegie Institution of WashingtonStanfordUSA

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