Plant and Soil

, Volume 282, Issue 1–2, pp 135–151

Response of Litter Decomposition to Simulated N Deposition in Disturbed, Rehabilitated and Mature Forests in Subtropical China

  • Jiangming Mo
  • Sandra Brown
  • Jinghua Xue
  • Yunting Fang
  • Zhian Li


The response of decomposition of litter for the dominant tree species in disturbed (pine), rehabilitated (pine and broadleaf mixed) and mature (monsoon evergreen broadleaf) forests in subtropical China to simulated N deposition was studied to address the following hypothesis: (1) litter decomposition is faster in mature forest (high soil N availability) than in rehabilitated/disturbed forests (low soil N availability); (2) litter decomposition is stimulated by N addition in rehabilitated and disturbed forests due to their low soil N availability; (3) N addition has little effect on litter decomposition in mature forest due to its high soil N availability. The litterbag method (a total of 2880 litterbags) and N treatments: Control-no N addition, Low-N: −5 g N m−2 y−1, Medium-N: −10 g N m−2 y−1, and High-N: −15 g N m−2 y−1, were employed to evaluate decomposition. Results indicated that mature forest, which has likely been N saturated due to both long-term high N deposition in the region and the age of the ecosystem, had the highest litter decomposition rate, and exhibited no significant positive and even some negative response to nitrogen additions. However, both disturbed and rehabilitated forests, which are still N limited due to previous land use history, exhibited slower litter decomposition rates with significant positive effects from nitrogen additions. These results suggest that litter decomposition and its responses to N addition in subtropical forests of China vary depending on the nitrogen status of the ecosystem.


China disturbance forest succession nitrogen deposition litter decomposition response subtropics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aber, J D 1992Nitrogen cycling and nitrogen saturation in temperate forest ecosystemTrees7220223Google Scholar
  2. Aber, J D, McDowell, W, Nadelhoffer, K J, Magill, A, Berntson, G, Kamakea, M, McNulty, S, Currie, W, Rustad, L, Fernandez, I 1998Nitrogen saturation in Northern forest ecosystems, hypotheses revisitedBioScience48921934CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aber, J D, Goodale, C L, Ollinger, S V, Smith, M L, Magill, A H, Martin, M E, Hallett, R A, Stoddard, J L 2003Is nitrogen deposition altering the nitrogen status of northeastern forests?BioScience53375389Google Scholar
  4. Adams, M B 2003Ecological issues related to N deposition to natural ecosystems: research needsEnviron. Int.29189199PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aerts, R, Logtestijn, R, Staalduinen, M, Toet, S 1995Nitrogen supply effects on productivity and potential leaf litter decay of Carex species from peatlands differing in nutrient limitationOecologia104447453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ågren, G K, Bosatta, E, Magill, A H 2001Combining theory and experiment to understand effects of inorganic nitrogen on litter decompositionOecologia.1289498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Alhamd, L, Arakaki, S, Hagihara, A 2004Decomposition of leaf of four tree species in a subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest, Okinawa Island, JapanFor. Ecol. Manage.202111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Anderson, J M, Ingram, J S I 1989Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility: A Handbook of MethodsCAB International, WallingfordOxford, EnglandGoogle Scholar
  9. Berg, B 1986Nutrient release from litter and humus in coniferous soils – a mini reviewScand. J. For. Res.1359369Google Scholar
  10. Berg, B 1988Dynamics of nitrogen (15N) in decomposing Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) needle litter. Long-term decomposition in a Scots pine forest. VICan. J. Bot.6615391546Google Scholar
  11. Berg, B, Matzner, E 1997Effect of N deposition on decomposition of plant litter and soil organic matter in forest systemsEnviron. Rev.5125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Berg, M P, Kniese, J P, Zoomer, R, Verhoef, H A 1998Long-term decomposition of successive organic strata in a nitrogen saturated Scots pine forest soilFor. Ecol. Manage.107159172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Berntson, G M, Aber, J D 2000Fast nitrate immobilization in N saturated temperate forest soilsSoil Biol. Biochem.32151156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bockheim, J G, Jepsen, E A, Heisey, D M 1991Nutrient dynamics in decomposing leaf litter of four tree species on a sandy soil in northwestern WisconsinCan. J. For. Res.21803812Google Scholar
  15. Boxman, A W, Dam, D, Dijk, H F G, Hogervorst, R F, Koopmans, C J 1995Ecosystem responses to reduced nitrogen and sulphur input into two coniferous stands in the NetherlandsFor. Ecol. Manage.71729CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bremner J M and Mulvaney C S 1982 Nitrogen-total. In Methods of Soil Analysis, Part 2: Chemical and Microbial Properties, Agronomy Monograph 9. Eds. A L Page, R H Miller and D R Keeney. pp. 595–624. Agronomy Society of America, Madison, Wisconsin. Google Scholar
  17. Brown, S, Lugo, A E 1982Storage and production of organic matter in tropical forests and their role in the global carbon cycleBiotropica14161187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, S, Lugo, A E 1990Tropical secondary forestsJ. Trop. Ecol.6132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Brown, S, Lenart, M T, Mo, J M, Kong, G H 1995Structure and organic matter dynamics of a human-impacted pine forest in a MAB reserve of subtropical ChinaBiotropica27276289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chen, X Y, Mulder, J, Wang, Y H, Zhao, D W, Xiang, R J 2004Atmospheric deposition, mineralization and leaching of nitrogen in subtropical forested catchments, South ChinaEnviron. Geochem. Hlth26179186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cuevas, E, Brown, S, Lugo, A E 1991Above- and belowground organic matter storage and production in a tropical pine plantation and a paried secondary forestPlant Soil135257268Google Scholar
  22. Das, A K, Remakrishnan, P S 1985Litter dynamics in Khasi pine of northeast IndiaFor. Ecol. Manage.110135153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eiland, F, Klamer, M, Lind, A M, Leth, M, Bååth, E 2001Influence of initial C:N ratio on chemical and microbial composition during long term composing of strawMicrobiol. Ecol.41272280Google Scholar
  24. Entry, J A, Backman, C 1995Influence of carbon and nitrogen on cellulose and lignin degradation in forest soilsCan. J. For. Res.2512311236Google Scholar
  25. Fog, K 1988The effect of added nitrogen on the rate of decomposition of organic matterBiol. Rev.63433462Google Scholar
  26. French, D D 1988Some effects of changing soil chemistry on decomposition of plant litters and cellulose on a Scottish moorOecologia75608618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fu, S L, Yi, W M, Ding, M M 1995Mineralization of soil microbial C, N, P and K in different vegetation types at Dinghushan Biosphere ReserveActa Phytoecologica Sinica19217224(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  28. Galloway, J N, Aber, J D, Erisman, J W, Seitzinger, S P, Howarth, R W, Cowling, E B, Cosby, B J 2003The Nitrogen CascadeBioScience53341356Google Scholar
  29. Hagedorn, F, Spinnler, D, Siegwolf, R 2003Increased N deposition retards mineralization of old soil organic matterSoil Biol. Biochem.3516831692CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hall, S J, Matson, P A 1999Nitrogen oxide emissions after nitrogen additions in tropical forestsNature400152155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hall, S J, Matson, P A 2003Nutrient status of tropical rain forests influences soil N dynamics after N additionsEcol. Monogr.73107129Google Scholar
  32. He S and Yu Z 1984 The Studies on the Reconstruction of Vegetation in Tropical Coastal Eroded Land in Guangdong. Tropical and Subtropical Forest Ecosystem 2. Science Press, Guangzhou, China. pp. 87–90Google Scholar
  33. Hobbie, S E 2000Interactions between litter lignin and soil nitrogen availability during leaf litter decomposition in a Hawaiian montane forestEcosystems3484494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Holdridge, L R 1967Life zone ecologyTropical Science CenterSan Jose, Costa RicaGoogle Scholar
  35. Huang Z F and Fan Z G 1982 The climate of Ding Hu Shan. Tropical and Subtropical Forest Ecosystem 1, 11–23. Science Press, Guangzhou, China. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  36. Huang, Z L, Ding, M M, Zhang, Z P, Yi, W M 1994The hydrological processes and nitrogen dynamics in a monsoon evergreen broad-leafed forest of Dinghu shanActa Phytoecologia Sinica18194199(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  37. Hunt, H W, Ingham, E R, Coleman, D C, Elliot, E T, Reid, C P P 1988Nitrogen limitation of production and decomposition in prairie, mountain meadow and pine forestEcology6910091016CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jensen, L E, Nybroe, O 1999Nitrogen availability to Pseudomonas fluorescens DF57 is limited during decomposition of barley straw in bulk soil and in the barley rhizosphereAppl. Environ. Microbiol.6543204328PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Koopmans, C J, Tietema, A, Verstraten, J M 1998Effects of reduced N deposition on litter decomposition and N cycling in two N saturated forests in the NetherlandsSoil Biol. Biochem.30141151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kuperman, R G 1999Litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics in oak-hickory forests along a historic gradient of nitrogen and sulfur depositionSoil Biol. Biochem.31237244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kwabiah, A B, Voroney, R P, Palm, C A, Stoskopf, N C 1999Inorganic fertilizer enrichment of soil: effect on decomposition of plant litter under subhumid tropical conditionsBiol. Fertil. Soils30224231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Liu, G H, Fu, B J, Chen, L D, Guo, X D 2000Characteristics and distributions of degraded ecological types in ChinaActa Ecological Sinica201319(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  43. Liu, G S, Jiang, N H, Zhang, L D, Liu, Z L 1996Soil Physical and Chemical Analysis and Description of Soil ProfilesStandards Press of ChinaBeijing121265(in Chinese)Google Scholar
  44. Loranger, G., Ponge, J F, Imbert, D, Lavelle, P 2002Leaf decomposition in two semi-evergreen tropical forests: influence of litter qualityBiol. Fertil. Soils35247252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ma, X H 1989Effects of rainfall on the nutrient cycling in man-made forests of Cunninghamia lanceolata and Pinus massonianaActa Ecologica Sinica91520(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  46. Macdonald, J A, Dise, N B, Matzner, E, Armbruster, M, Gundersen, P, Forsius, M 2002Nitrogen input together with ecosystem nitrogen enrichment predict nitrate leaching from European forestsGlobal Change Biol.810281033CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Magill, A H, Aber, J D 1998Long-term effects of experimental nitrogen addition on foliar litter decay and humus formation in forest ecosystemsPlant and Soil203301311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Magill, A H, Aber, J D, Currie, W S, Nadelhoffer, K J, Martin, M E, McDowell, W H, Melillo, J M, Steudler, P A 2004Ecosystem response to 15 years of chronic nitrogen additions at the Harvard Forest LTER, Massachusetts, USAFor. Ecol. Manage.196728CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Månsson, K F, Falkengren-Grerup, U 2003The effect of nitrogen deposition on nitrification, carbon and nitrogen mineralization and litter C:N ratios in oak (Quercus robur L.) forestsFor. Ecol. Manage.179455467CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Matson, P A, Lohse, K A, Hall, S J 2002The globalization of nitrogen deposition: consequences for terrestrial ecosystemsAmbio31113119PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Matson, P A, McDowell, W H, Townsend, A R, Vitousek, P M 1999The globalization of N deposition: ecosystem consequences in tropical environmentsBiogeochemistry466783Google Scholar
  52. Melillo, J M, Aber, J D, Muratore, J F 1982Nitrogen and lignin control of hardwood leaf litter decomposition dynamicsEcology63621626CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Micks, P, Down, M R, Magill, A H, Nadelhoffer, K J, Aber, J D 2004Decomposition litter as a sink for 15N-enriched additions to an oak forest and a red pine plantationFor. Ecol. Manage.1967187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mo, J M, Brown, S, Lenart, M, Kong, G H 1995Nutrient dynamics of a human-impacted pine forest in a MAB Reserve of subtropical ChinaBiotropica27290304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mo, J M, Brown, S, Peng, S L, Kong, G H 2003Nitrogen availability in Disturbed, Rehabilitated and Mature Forests of Tropical ChinaFor. Ecol. Manage.175573583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mo, J M, Peng, S L, Brown, S, Kong, G H, Fang, Y T 2004Nutrient dynamics in response to harvesting practices in a pine forest of subtropical ChinaActa Phytoecologia Sinica28810822(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  57. Mo, J M, Zhang, D Q, Huang, Z L, Yu, Q F, Kong, G H 2000Distribution pattern of nutrient elements in plants of Dinghushan lower subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forestJournal of Tropical and Subtropical Botany8198206(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  58. Olson, J S 1963Energy storage and the balance of producers and decomposers in ecological systemsEcology44322331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Prescott, C E 1996Influence of forest floor type on rates of litter decomposition in microcosmsSoil Biol. Biochem.2814361443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Prescott, C E, Corbin, J P, Parkinson,  1992Immobilization and availability of N and P in the forest floors of fertilized Rocky Mountain coniferous forestsPlant and Soil143110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Prescott, C E, Kabzems, R, Zabek, L M 1999Effects of fertilization on decomposition rate of Populus tremuloides foliar litter in a boreal forestCan. J. For. Res.29393397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ren, R, Mi, F, Bai, N 2000A chemometrics analysis on the data of precipitation chemistry of ChinaJournal of Beijing Polytechnic University269095(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  63. Ribeiro, C, Madeira, M, Araùjo, M C 2002Decomposition and nutrient release from leaf litter of Eucalyptus globulus grown under different water and nutrient regimesFor. Ecol. Manage.1713141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Scott, T J, Mrtchell, M J, Santos, A, Destaffen, P 1989Comparison of two methods for measuring ammonium in solution samplesCommun. Soil Sci. Plant Anal.2011311144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Singh, J S, Gupta, R S 1977Plant decomposition and soil respiration in terrestrial ecosystemBot. Rev.43499528Google Scholar
  66. Stohlgren, T J 1988Litter dynamics in two Sierran mixed conifer forests I. Litterfall and decomposition ratesCan. J. For. Res.18112135Google Scholar
  67. Sundarapandian, S M, Swamy, P S 1999Litter production and leaf-litter decomposition of selected tree species in tropical forests at Kodayar in the Western Ghats, IndiaFor. Ecol. Manage.123231244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Takeda, H 1996

    Templates for the organization of soil animals communities in tropical forests

    Turner, I MDiong, C HLim, S S LNg, P K L eds. Biodiversity and the Dynamics of EcosystemsDIWPA SERIESSingapore217226
    Google Scholar
  69. Tietema, A, Boxman, A W, Bredemeier, M, Emmett, B A, Moldan, F, Gundersen, P, Schleppi, P, Wright, R F 1998Nitrogen saturation experiments (NITREX) in coniferous forest ecosystems in Europe: a summary of resultsEnviron. Pollut.102433437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Vestgarden, L S 2001Carbon and nitrogen turnover in the early stage of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) needle litter decomposition: effects of internal and external nitrogenSoil Biol. Biochem.33465474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Vitousek, P M 1998Foliar and litter nutrients, nutrient resorption, and decomposition in Hawaiian Metrosideros polymorphaEcosystems1401407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Vitousek, P M, Reiners, W A 1975Ecosystem succession and nutrient retention: a hypothesisBioScience25376381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Vitousek, P M, Sanford, R L,Jr 1986Nutrient cycling in moist tropical forestAnn. Rev. Ecol. Syst.17137167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wang Z, He D, Song S, Chen S, Chen D and Tu M 1982 The Vegetation of Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve. Tropical and Subtropical Forest Ecosystem 1. Science Press, Guangzhou, China. pp. 77–141. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  75. Xuluc-Tolosa, F J, Vester, H F M, Ramirez-Marcial, N, Castellanos-Albores, J, Lawrence, D 2003Leaf litter decomposition of tree species in three successional phases of tropical dry secondary forest in Campeche, MexicoFor. Ecol. Manage.174401412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Yi W M, Yi Z Z, Ding M M and Zhou L X 2002 Soil Microbial Biomass and its Carbon Dynamic in the Main Forest Vegetations in Dinghushan Area. Tropical and Subtropical Forest Ecosystem 9. Science Press, Guangzhou, China. pp. 180–185. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  77. Zhang B and Zhuo M 1989 The storage capacity of soil moisture under different forest types in Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve. Tropical and Subtropical Forest Ecosystem 5. Science press, Guangzhou, China. pp. 1–6. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  78. Zhang, D Q, Ye, W H, Yu, Q F, Kong, G H, Zhang, Y C 2000The litter-fall of representative forests of successional series in DinghushanActa Eclogica Sinica20938944(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  79. Zheng, X, Fu, C, Xu, X, Xiaodong, Y, Huang, Y, Chen, G, Han, S, Hu, F 2002The Asian nitrogen cycle case studyAmbio317987PubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Zhou, G Y, Yan, J H 2001The influence of region atmospheric precipitation characteristics and its element inputs on the existence and development of Dinghushan forest ecosystemsActa Eclogica Sinica2120022012(in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar
  81. Zhou H, Li M, Zhou Y, He D and Huang Y 1986 The Vegetation Map of Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve with Reference to its Illustration. Tropical and Subtropical Forest Ecosystem 4. Science press, Guangzhou, China. pp. 43–49. (in Chinese with English abstract)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jiangming Mo
    • 1
  • Sandra Brown
    • 2
  • Jinghua Xue
    • 1
  • Yunting Fang
    • 1
  • Zhian Li
    • 1
  1. 1.South China Botanical Gardenthe Chinese Academy of SciencesDinghu, ZhaoqingChina
  2. 2.Winrock InternationalArlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations