Plant traits, litter quality and decomposition in a Mediterranean old-field succession
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Cortez, J., Garnier, E., Pérez-Harguindeguy, N. et al. Plant Soil (2007) 296: 19. doi:10.1007/s11104-007-9285-6
- 555 Downloads
Human-induced changes in land use lead to major changes in plant community composition which have strong effects on ecosystem processes. Here, we tested the hypothesis that changes in traits of living plants induced by such changes resulted in changes in the quality and decay properties of the litter produced by the different communities. This was done in the context of a secondary succession following land abandonment in the Mediterranean region of Southern France.
During the course of succession, species with high specific leaf area (the ratio of leaf area to leaf mass), low leaf dry matter content (the ratio of leaf dry mass to leaf fresh mass) and high leaf nitrogen concentration were progressively replaced by species with opposite characteristics. Accordingly, the initial litter concentrations of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) decreased, while their C:N ratio and their hemicellulose concentration increased with time after abandonment.
Early-successional communities had faster rates of litter decay and N release from litter, but these differences damped out with decomposition time. Nitrogen release from litter was related to initial litter chemical composition, particularly to its N concentration. This also held for litter decay rate, but only during the first 18 months of decomposition.
Community functional parameters (i.e. trait values weighed according to the relative abundance of species) were tightly linked to initial litter N concentration, and thereby to litter decay and N loss rates. The strongest correlations were found with leaf dry matter content, which therefore appears as a powerful marker of litter properties. This provides further evidence that characteristics of living leaves persist in litter, and that some ecosystem processes can be inferred from plant functional traits.