Decomposition of labile and recalcitrant coniferous litter fractions affected by temperature during the growing season

  • Veronika JílkováEmail author
  • Kristýna Dufková
  • Tomáš Cajthaml
Original Paper


Temperate coniferous forest soils are considered important sinks of soil organic carbon (C). Fresh C inputs may, however, affect soil microbial activity, leading to increased organic matter decomposition and carbon dioxide production. Litter consists of labile and recalcitrant fractions which are thought to be utilized by distinct microbial communities and at different rates during the growing season. In this study, we incubated the whole litter (LC + RC), the labile (LC) and the recalcitrant (RC) fractions with the coniferous soil at two temperatures representing spring/autumn (10 °C) and summer (20 °C) for one month. Soil respiration and microbial community composition were regularly determined using phospholipid fatty acids as biomarkers. The LC fraction greatly increased soil respiration at the beginning of the incubation period but this effect was rather short-term. The effect of the RC fraction persisted longer and, together with the LC + RC fraction, respiration increased during the whole incubation period. Decomposition of the RC fraction was more strongly affected by higher temperatures than decomposition of the more labile fractions (LC and LC + RC). However, when we consider the relative increase in soil respiration compared to the dH2O treatment, respiration increased more at a lower temperature, suggesting that available C is more important for microbial metabolism at lower temperatures. Although C was added only once in our study, no changes in microbial community composition were detected, possibly because the microbial community is adapted to relatively low amounts of additional C such as the amounts naturally found in litter.


Temperate forest Picea abies Soil respiration Hot water-extractable carbon PLFA (phospholipid fatty acids) 



This study was supported by the Czech Academy of Sciences (L200961602; MSM200961606; Otevřená věda, fellowship No. 1.062) and by the European Regional Development Fund-Project “Research of key soil–water ecosystem interactions at the SoWa Research Infrastructure” (No.CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_013/0001782). Part of the equipment used for this study was purchased from the Operational Programme Prague-Competitiveness (Project CZ.2.16/3.1.00/21516). The authors wish to thank Kateřina Jandová for total carbon analyses of the initial forest soil and litter and Šárka and Gerrit Angst for helpful comments on the manuscript.


  1. Berg B, McClaugherty C (2008) Plant litter. Decomposition, humus formation, carbon sequestration. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  2. Brady NC, Weil RR (2002) The nature and properties of soils. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  3. Cepáková Š, Tošner Z, Frouz J (2016) The effect of tree species on seasonal fluctuations in water-soluble and hot water-extractable organic matter at post-mining sites. Geoderma 275:19–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Crow SE, Lajtha K, Bowden RD, Yano Y, Brant JB, Caldwell BA, Sulzman EW (2009) Increased coniferous needle inputs accelerate decomposition of soil carbon in an old-growth forest. Forest Ecol Manag 258:2224–2232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Don A, Kalbitz K (2005) Amounts and degradability of dissolved organic carbon from foliar litter at different decomposition stages. Soil Biol Biochem 37:2171–2179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ekschmitt K, Liu M, Vetter S, Fox O, Wolters V (2005) Strategies used by soil biota to overcome soil organic matter stability - why is dead organic matter left over in the soil? Geoderma 128:167–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Frankland JC (1998) Fungal succession—unravelling the unpredictable. Mycol Res 102:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ghani A, Dexter M, Perrott KW (2003) Hot-water extractable carbon in soils: a sensitive measurement for determining impacts of fertilisation, grazing and cultivation. Soil Biol Biochem 35:1231–1243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jílková V, Cajthaml T, Frouz J (2015) Respiration in wood ant (Formica aquilonia) nests as affected by altitudinal and seasonal changes in temperature. Soil Biol Biochem 86:50–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jílková V, Cajthaml T, Frouz J (2018) Relative importance of honeydew and resin for the microbial activity in wood ant nest and forest floor substrate—a laboratory study. Soil Biol Biochem 117:1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Joly F-X, Fromin N, Kiikkilä O, Hättenschwiler S (2016) Diversity of leaf litter leachates from temperate forest trees and its consequences for soil microbial activity. Biogeochemistry 129:373–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kalbitz K, Meyer A, Yang R, Gerstberger P (2007) Response of dissolved organic matter in the forest floor to long-term manipulation of litter and throughfall inputs. Biogeochemistry 86:301–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kammer A, Schmidt MWI, Hagedorn F (2012) Decomposition pathways of 13C-depleted leaf litter in forest soils of the Swiss Jura. Biogeochemistry 108:395–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Karhu K, Fritze H, Tuomi M, Vanhala P, Spetz P, Kitunen V, Liski J (2010) Temperature sensitivity of organic matter decomposition in two boreal forest soil profiles. Soil Biol Biochem 42:72–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Koranda M, Kaiser C, Fuchslueger L, Kitzler B, Sessitsch A, Zechmeister-Boltenstern S, Richter A (2014) Fungal and bacterial utilization of organic substrates depends on substrate complexity and N availability. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 87:142–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kuzyakov Y, Friedel JK, Stahr K (2000) Review of mechanisms and quantification of priming effects. Soil Biol Biochem 32:1485–1498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lal R (2008) Soil carbon stocks under present and future climate with specific reference to European ecoregions. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 81:113–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Manzoni S, Taylor P, Richter A, Taylor P, Richter A, Porporato A, Agren GI (2012) Environmental and stoichiometric controls on microbial carbon-use efficiency in soils. New Phytol 196:79–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Marschner B, Kalbitz K (2003) Controls of bioavailability and biodegradability of dissolved organic matter in soils. Geoderma 113:211–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Paterson E, Osler G, Dawson LA, Gebbing T, Sim A, Ord B (2008) Labile and recalcitrant plant fractions are utilised by distinct microbial communities in soil: independent of the presence of roots and mycorrhizal fungi. Soil Biol Biochem 40:1103–1113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Paterson E, Sim A, Osborne SM, Murray PJ (2011) Long-term exclusion of plant inputs to soil reduces the functional capacity of microbial communities to mineralise recalcitrant root-derived carbon sources. Soil Biol Biochem 43:1873–1880CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Paul EA, Clark FE (1996) Soil microbiology and biochemistry. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  23. Persson T, Bååth E, Clarholm M, Lundkvist H, Söderström B, Sohlenius B (1980) Trophic structure, biomass dynamics and carbon metabolism of soil organisms in a Scots pine forest. Ecol Bull (Stockholm) 32:419–462Google Scholar
  24. Qualls RG, Haines BL (1991) Geochemistry of dissolved organic nutrients in water percolating through a forest ecosystem. Soil Sci Soc Am J 55:1112–1123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Raich JW, Russell AE, Kitayama K, Parton WJ, Vitousek PM (2006) Temperature influences carbon accumulation in moist tropical forests. Ecology 87:76–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schlesinger WH, Andrews JA (2000) Soil respiration and the global carbon cycle. Biogeochemistry 48:7–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Šnajdr J, Valášková V, Merhautová V, Cajthaml T, Baldrian P (2008) Activity and spatial distribution of lignocellulose-degrading enzymes during forest soil colonization by saprotrophic basidiomycetes. Enzyme Microbiol Technol 43:186–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sparling G, Vojvodic-Vukovic M, Schipper LA (1998) Hot-water-soluble C as a simple measure of labile soil organic matter: the relationship with microbial biomass C. Soil Biol Biochem 30:1469–1472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Swift MJ, Heal OW, Anderson JM (1979) Decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. Tyrrell ML, Ross J, Kelty M (2012) Carbon dynamics in the temperate forest. In: Ashton MS, Tyrrell ML, Spalding D, Gentry B (eds) Managing forest carbon in a changing climate. Springer, New York, pp 77–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Valášková V, Šnajdr J, Bittner B, Cajthaml T, Merhautová V, Hofrichter M, Baldrian P (2007) Production of lignocellulose-degrading enzymes and degradation of leaf litter by saprotrophic basidiomycetes isolated from a Quercus petraea forest. Soil Biol Biochem 39:2651–2660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. von Lützow M, Kögel-Knabner I (2009) Temperature sensitivity of soil organic matter decomposition—what do we know? Biol Fertil Soils 46:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wang Q, Suping L, Silong W (2013) Debris manipulation alters soil CO2 efflux in a subtropical plantation forest. Geoderma 192:316–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wardle DA (1992) A comparative assessment of factors which influence microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen levels in soil. Biol Rev 67:321–358CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wardle D, Bardgett R, Klironomos J (2004) Ecological linkages between aboveground and belowground biota. Science 304:1629–1633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. White RE (1997) Principles and practice of soil science. Blackwell Science, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  37. Xu W, Li W, Jiang P, Wang H, Bai E (2014) Distinct temperature sensitivity of soil carbon decomposition in forest organic layer and mineral soil. Sci Rep 4:6512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zsolnay A, Steindl H (1991) Geovariability and biodegradability of the water-extractable organic material in an agricultural soil. Soil Biol Biochem 23:1077–1082CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Northeast Forestry University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Veronika Jílková
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristýna Dufková
    • 2
  • Tomáš Cajthaml
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of SciencesInstitute of Soil Biology [and SoWa RI]České BudějoviceCzech Republic
  2. 2.Faculty of ScienceMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental StudiesCharles University in PraguePragueCzech Republic
  4. 4.Institute of MicrobiologyCzech Academy of SciencesPragueCzech Republic

Personalised recommendations