Plant and Soil

, Volume 170, Issue 1, pp 149–157 | Cite as

Decomposition and nitrogen release from leaves of three hardwood species grown under elevated O3 and/or CO2

  • Ralph E. J. Boerner
  • Joanne Rebbeck
Microbial Population Dynamic


Elevated concentrations of O3 and CO2 have both been shown to affect structure, nutrient status, and deposition of secondary metabolites in leaves of forest trees. While such studies have produced robust models of the effects of such air pollutants on tree ecophysiology and growth, few have considered the potential for broader, ecosystem-level effects after these chemically and structurally altered leaves fall as leaf litter and decay. To determine the effects of elevated O3 and/or CO2 on the subsequent decomposition and nutrient release from the leaves grown in such altered atmospheres, we grew seedlings of three widespread North American forest trees, black cherry (Prunus serotina) (BC), sugar maple (Acer saccharum) (SM), and yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) (YP) for two growing seasons in charcoal-filtered air (CF-air=approximately 25% ambient O3), ambient O3 (1X) or twice-ambient O3 (2X) in outdoor open-top chambers. We then assayed the loss of mass and N from the litter derived from those seedlings through one year litterbag incubations in the forest floor of a neighboring forest stand. Mass loss followed linear functions and was not affected by the O3 regime in which the leaves were grown. Instantaneous decay rates (i.e. k values) averaged SM:−0.707 y-1, BC:−0.613 y-1, and YP:−0.859 y-1. N loss from ambient (1X) O3-grown SM leaves was significantly greater than from CF-air leaves: N loss from BC leaves did not differ among treatments. Significantly less N was released from CF-air-grown YP leaves than from 1X or 2X O3-treated leaves. YP leaves from plants grown in pots at 2X O3 and 350 ppm supplemental CO2 in indoor pollutant fumigation chambers (CSTRs or Continuously Stirred Tank Reactors) loss 40% as much mass and 27% as much N over one year as did leaves from YP grown in CF-air or 2X O3. Thus, for leaves from plants grown in pots in controlled environment fumigation chambers, the concentrations of both O3 and CO2 can affect N release from litter incubated in the field whereas mass loss rate was affected only by CO2. Because both mass loss and N release from leaves grown at elevated CO2 were reduced significantly (at least for yellow-poplar), forests exposed to elevated CO2 may have significantly reduced N turnover rates, thereby resulting in increased N limitation of tree growth, especially in forests which are already N-limited.

Key words

carbon dioxide decomposition lignin nitrogen ozone 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ralph E. J. Boerner
    • 1
    • 2
  • Joanne Rebbeck
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Northeastern Forest Experiment StationU.S.D.A. Forest ServiceDelawareUSA

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