A comparison of decomposition dynamics among green tree leaves, partially decomposed tree leaf litter and their mixture in a warm temperate forest ecosystem
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Decomposition dynamics were compared among green tree leaves, partially decomposed tree leaf litter (i.e., decayed tree leaf litter on forest floor) and a mixture of the two in a warm temperate forest ecosystem in central China to test the influence of litter chemical quality on the degree of decomposition. The study was conducted in situ at two contrasting forest sites, an oak forest dominated by Quercus aliena var. acuteserrata Maxim., and a mixed pine and oak forest dominated by Pinus armandii Franch. and Q. aliena var. acuteserrata. We found marked differences in the rate of decomposition among litter types at both forest sites; the litter decomposition constant, k, was about 39 % greater at the oak forest site and more than 70 % greater at the pine-oak forest site, for green leaves than for partially decomposed leaf litter. The decomposition dynamics and temporal changes in litter chemistry of the three litter types also greatly differed between the two forest sites. At both forest sites, the higher rate of decomposition for the green leaves was associated with a higher nitrogen (N) content and lower carbon to N ratio (C/N) and acid-unhydrolyzable residue to N ratio (AUR/N). We did not find any non-additive effects when mixing green leaves and partially decomposed leaf litter. Our findings support the contention that litter chemical quality is one of the most important determinants of litter decomposition in forest ecosystems at the local or regional scale, but the effect of litter chemical quality on decomposition differs between the contrasting forest types and may vary with the stage of decomposition.
KeywordsCarbon cycling Litter chemistry Litter decay Litter quality Recalcitrance
This study was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2011CB403205). We gratefully acknowledge the Baotianman Long-Term Forest Ecosystem Research Station and Baotianman Bureau of the National Nature Reserve for logistic support and site access permission. Rongcheng Li and Qiongda Pu assisted in field sampling and laboratory analyses. We thank an anonymous reviewer for constructive comments and suggestions for revision of an earlier version of the manuscript.
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