Plant and Soil

, Volume 431, Issue 1–2, pp 175–189 | Cite as

Local root status: a neglected bio-factor that regulates the home-field advantage of leaf litter decomposition

  • Kai Tian
  • Xiangshi Kong
  • Jianguo Gao
  • Yanyan Jia
  • Hong Lin
  • Zaihua He
  • Yanli Ji
  • Zhanlin Bei
  • Xingjun TianEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aims

The ‘home-field advantage (HFA) hypothesis’ predicts a litter-field affinity effect on litter decomposition. In terrestrial ecosystems, plant roots have comprehensive roles in regulating litter-decomposer interactions, yet their potential influences on HFA remain unsolved. To fill this gap, we conducted a litter transplant experiment in a subtropical forest, and tested whether roots affect litter-field affinity via interactions with soil microbial functions.


Leaf litters of Quercus variabilis and Pinus massoniana were incubated at their conspecific-dominated and heterospecific-dominated forests. Root-specific incubation microcosms were manipulated by using a series of root ingrowth cores to control the access of living fine roots.


Entire exclusion of roots led to a significant suppression of HFA, and the affinity effect was amplified under a medium root constraint treatment (by 0.5 mm mesh). Incubation field (‘home’ vs. ‘away’) generally had a positive effect on litter mineralization when roots were present, and roots became more influential after 9 months than 3 months of incubation. Although microbial enzymatic functions and their impact on litter N loss depended on root status, they were not associated with incubation field.


Our findings advocate that a moderate amount of local roots is essential for HFA in leaf litter decomposition, and taking account of root-mediated species-specific bio-interactions will advance our understanding of native litter- home field affinity.


Home-field advantage Leaf litter decomposition Local adaptation Plant-soil interactions Root ingrowth core Root priming effect Soil microbial function 



We thank Dr. Amanda Gallinat at the Boston University and Dr. Haijing Hu at the Nanjing University for their helpful comments, assistance with English language and grammatical editing of this manuscript. This study was financially supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (No. 2016YFD0600204); the State Key Program of National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31530007); the Sanxin Forestry Project in Jiangsu Province (No. LYSX[2016]46); the specimen platform of China and the teaching specimens sub-platform (2005DKA21403-JK); and the Major Science and Technology Program for Water Pollution Control and Treatment (No. 2012ZX07204-004-003).

Supplementary material

11104_2018_3757_MOESM1_ESM.docx (401 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 400 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Life SciencesNanjing UniversityNanjingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Coastal Ecosystems Research Station of the Yangtze River Estuary, Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, Institute of Biodiversity ScienceFudan UniversityShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Co-Innovation Center for Sustainable Forestry in Southern ChinaNanjing Forestry UniversityNanjingPeople’s Republic of China

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