Plant and Soil

, Volume 419, Issue 1–2, pp 305–317 | Cite as

Leaf litter diversity positively affects the decomposition of plant polyphenols

  • Christian RistokEmail author
  • Katrin N. Leppert
  • Katrin Franke
  • Michael Scherer-Lorenzen
  • Pascal A. Niklaus
  • Ludger A. Wessjohann
  • Helge Bruelheide
Regular Article


Background and Aims

Leaf litter decomposition is closely linked to nutrient cycling and driven by environmental conditions, species-specific leaf chemistry, and here in particular by polyphenols composition. However, not much attention has been paid on the decomposition of polyphenols themselves. We hypothesized that phenolics and tannin decomposition rates are species-specific and positively affected by litter species richness.


Leaf litter of three Chinese tree species was exposed to field decomposition conditions, aggregated in mixtures of different species richness (1-, 2-, 3-species mixtures). We sampled litter five times over the course of 171 days, calculated species-specific total phenolics and total protein precipitable tannin decomposition rates, assessed changes in polyphenol composition using HPLC, and tentatively identified compounds by LC-ESI-MS/MS.


Leaf litter richness effects on phenolics and tannin decomposition rates were positive, except for Sapindus-specific tannins, and differed between leaf litter species. Decomposition duration changed polyphenol compositions, and significantly interacted with leaf litter species richness with increasing effects of litter richness with time.


Litter diversity effects on polyphenol decomposition are crucial for whole leaf litter decomposition. The contrasting dependencies of phenolics and tannin decomposition rates on leaf litter richness may provide explanations for equivocal results in leaf litter mixture experiments.


BEF-China leaf litter decomposition HPLC leaf polyphenols litter species richness tannins 



Low molecular weight phenolics


High molecular weight phenolics


Liquid chromatography


High-performance liquid chromatography


Liquid chromatography - mass spectrometry


Electro spray ionization


Collision-induced dissociation



We thank N. Arnold, S. Both, A. Ehrlich, D. Eichenberg, U. Erhard. R. Heinke, M. Hiß, W. H. Müller, Z. Pei, B. Plaga, J. Schmidt, T. Walther and A. Zeuner for practical help. We gratefully acknowledge funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG FOR 891/1 and 2) and the Sino-German Centre for Research Promotion for the participation in a Summer School in Jingdezhen (GZ 1146). We thank the whole BEF-China, and especially the New Integrated Litter Experiment team for the inspiring working atmosphere. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions to improve the present manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Data Accessibility

Data on phenolics content, tannin content as well as peak area of all 93 quantified peaks are available on the BEF-China Data Portal at

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3340_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (279 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 279 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical GardenMartin-Luther-University Halle-WittenbergHalle (Saale)Germany
  2. 2.German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-LeipzigLeipzigGermany
  3. 3.Faculty of Biology, GeobotanyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  4. 4.Department of Bioorganic ChemistryLeibniz Institute of Plant BiochemistryHalle (Saale)Germany
  5. 5.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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