Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 71–80 | Cite as

Litter decomposition in fertilizer treatments of vegetable crops under irrigated subtropical conditions

  • Nils RottmannEmail author
  • Konrad Siegfried
  • Andreas Buerkert
  • Rainer Georg Joergensen
Original Paper


In the coastal Batinah plain of Oman, a litterbag experiment was carried out in an irrigated field, investigating the effects of organic fertilization and mineral fertilization on the cultivation of carrots and cauliflower. Two straw varieties and two green-harvested crops were used, simulating the properties of green manures. The loss of C in the litterbags declined in the order maize (−94%) > alfalfa (−89%) > wheat (−80%) > canola (−69%). For all these materials, the concentration of muramic acid, as an indicator of bacterial C, as well as galactosamine was generally increased in comparison with the initial values. In contrast, fungal glucosamine and consequently also the ratio of fungal C/bacterial C declined for canola and wheat straw. The loss of N, P, and S was generally smaller than that of C and showed strong substrate-specific patterns. Fertilization and crop cultivation had no effect on C losses. Organic fertilization resulted in significant increases in S, Mg, and Al in the litterbags in comparison with mineral fertilization. Cultivation of carrots led to significantly lower ash, N, P, Ca, K, Na, and Al concentrations than cultivation of cauliflower. Organic fertilization and carrot cultivation both led to stronger fungal colonization of the litter retained in the litterbags in comparison with mineral fertilization and cauliflower cultivation, respectively. More information is required on the interactions between initial plant surface colonizing microorganisms and soil-derived colonizers.


Litter quality Decomposition Nutrient release Microbial C Fungal C Amino sugars Litterbag 



The technical assistance of Gabriele Dormann and the support of Dr. Herbert Dietz are highly appreciated. This project was supported by a grant of the Research Training Group 1397 “Regulation of soil organic matter and nutrient turnover in organic agriculture” of the German Research Foundation (DFG).


  1. Alhamed L, Arakaki S, Hagihara A (2004) Decomposition of leaf litter of four tree species in a subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest, Okinawa Island, Japan. For Ecol Manag 202:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison MF, Killham K (1988) Response of soil microbial biomass to straw incorporation. J Soil Sci 39:237–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amelung W, Brodowski S, Sandhage-Hofmann A, Bol R (2008) Combining biomarker with stable isotope analyses for assessing the transformation and turnover of soil organic matter. Adv Agron 100:155–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aneja MK, Sharma S, Fleischmann F, Stich S, Heller W, Bahnweg G, Munch JC, Schloter M (2006) Microbial colonization of beech and spruce litter—influence of decomposition site and plant litter species on the diversity of microbial community. Microb Ecol 52:27–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Appuhn A, Joergensen RG (2006) Microbial colonisation of roots as a function of plant species. Soil Biol Biochem 38:1040–1051CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Appuhn A, Joergensen RG, Raubuch M, Scheller E, Wilke B (2004) The automated determination of glucosamine, galactosamine, muramic acid and mannosamine in soil and root hydrolysates by HPLC. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 167:17–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bending GD, Turner MK, Burns IG (1998) Fate of nitrogen from crop residues as affected by biochemical quality and the microbial biomass. Soil Biol Biochem 30:2055–2065CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berg B (2000) Litter decomposition and organic matter turnover in northern forest soils. For Ecol Manag 133:13–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bocock KL, Gilbert O (1957) The disappearance of leaf litter under different woodland conditions. Plant Soil 9:179–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bowen RM, Harper HT (1990) Decomposition of wheat straw and related compounds by fungi isolated from straw in arable soils. Soil Biol Biochem 22:393–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cepeda-Pizarro JG (1993) Litter decomposition in desserts: an overview with an example from coastal arid Chile. Rev Chil Hist Nat 66:323–336Google Scholar
  12. Chander K, Hartmann G, Joergensen RG, Khan KS, Lamersdorf N (2008) Comparison of three methods for measuring heavy metals in soils contaminated by different sources. Arch Agron Soil Sci 54:413–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cheshire MV, Bedrock CN, Williams BL, Chapman SJ, Solntseva I, Thomsen I (1999) The immobilization of nitrogen by straw decomposing in soil. Eur J Soil Sci 50:329–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Christensen BT (1985) Wheat and barley straw decomposition under field conditions: effect of soil type and plant cover on weight loss, nitrogen and potassium content. Soil Biol Biochem 17:691–697CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dickinson CH, Pugh GJF (eds) (1974) Biology of plant litter decomposition. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Engelking B, Flessa H, Joergensen RG (2007) Microbial use of maize cellulose and sugarcane sucrose monitored by changes in the 13C/12C ratio. Soil Biol Biochem 39:1888–1896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Glaser B, Turrión MB, Alef K (2004) Amino sugars and muramic—biomarkers for soil microbial community structure analysis. Soil Biol Biochem 36:399–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hättenschwiler S, Vitousek PM (2000) The role of polyphenols in terrestrial ecosystem nutrient cycling. Tree 15:238–243PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Henriksen TM, Breland TA (1999a) Decomposition of crop residues un field: evaluation of a simulation model developed from microcosm studies. Soil Biol Biochem 31:1423–1434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Henriksen TM, Breland TA (1999b) Nitrogen availability effects on carbon mineralization, fungal and bacterial growth, and enzyme activities during decomposition of wheat straw in soil. Soil Biol Biochem 31:1121–1134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Henriksen TM, Breland TA (1999c) Evaluation of criteria for describing crop residue degradability in a model of carbon and nitrogen turnover in soil. Soil Biol Biochem 31:1135–1149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Iiyama K, Wallis AFA (1988) An improved acetyl bromide procedure for determining lignin in woods and wood pulps. Wood Sci Technol 22:271–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Isaac SR, Nair MA (2006) Litter dynamics of six multipurpose trees in a homegarden in Southern Kerala, India. Agrofor Syst 67:203–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Joergensen RG (1991) Organic matter and element dynamics of the litter layer on a forest Rendzina under beech. Biol Fertil Soils 11:163–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Joergensen RG, Meyer B (1990) Chemical change in organic matter decomposition in and on a forest Rendzina under beech (Fagus sylvatica L.). J Soil Sci 41:17–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Joergensen RG, Mueller T, Wolters V (1996) Total carbohydrates of the soil microbial biomass in 0.5 M K2SO4 soil extracts. Soil Biol Biochem 28:1147–1153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Joergensen RG, Scholle GA, Wolters V (2009) Dynamics of mineral components in the forest floor of an acidic beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forest. Eur J Soil Biol 45:285–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Joergensen RG, Mäder P, Fließbach A (2010) Long-term effects of organic farming on fungal and bacterial residues in relation to microbial energy metabolism. Biol Fertil Soils 46:303–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Knacker T, Förster B, Römke J, Framptom G (2003) Assessing the effects of plant protection on organic matter breakdown in arable fields—litter decomposition test systems. Soil Biol Biochem 35:1269–1287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Loranger-Merciris G, Imbert D, Bernhard-Reversat F, Ponge JF, Lavelle P (2007) Soil fauna abundance and diversity in a secondary semi-evergreen forest in Guadeloupe (Lesser Antilles): influence of soil type and dominant tree species. Biol Fertil Soils 44:269–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Müller T, von Fragstein und Niemsdorff P (2006) Organic fertilizers derived from plant materials. Part I: turnover in soil at low and moderate temperatures. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 169:255–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Murayama S (1984) Changes in the monosaccharide composition during the decomposition of straw under field conditions. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 30:367–381Google Scholar
  33. Potthoff M, Loftfield N (1998) How to quantify contamination of organic litter bag material with soil. Pedobiologia 42:147–153Google Scholar
  34. Potthoff M, Dyckmans J, Flessa H, Beese F, Joergensen RG (2008) Decomposition of maize residues after manipulation of colonization and its contribution to the soil microbial biomass. Biol Fertil Soils 44:891–895CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Powlson DS, Hirsch PR, Brookes PC (2001) The role of soil microorganisms in soil organic matter conservation in the tropics. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst 60:237–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Recous S, Robin D, Darwis D, Mary B (1995) Soil inorganic N availability: effect on maize residue decomposition. Soil Biol Biochem 27:1529–1538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Robinson CH, Dighton J, Frankland JC, Roberts JD (1994) Fungal communities on decaying wheat straw of different resource qualities. Soil Biol Biochem 26:1053–1058CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rottmann N, Dyckmans J, Joergensen RG (2009) Microbial use and decomposition of maize leaf straw incubated in packed soil columns at different depths. Eur J Soil Biol 46:27–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Saini RC (1989) Mass loss and nitrogen concentration changes during the decomposition of rice residues under field conditions. Pedobiologia 33:229–235Google Scholar
  40. Scheller E, Joergensen RG (2008) Decomposition of wheat straw differing in N content in soils under conventional and organic farming management. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 171:886–892CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Siegfried K, Dietz H, Schlecht E, Buerkert A (2010) Effects of manure with different C/N ratios on yields and yield components of organically grown vegetables on a sandy subtropical soil. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst (in press)Google Scholar
  42. Tam NFY, Vrijmoed LLP, Wonf YS (1990) Nutrient dynamics associated with leaf decomposition in a small subtropical mangrove community in Hong Kong. Bull Mar Sci 47:68–78Google Scholar
  43. Taylor AR, Schröter D, Pflug A, Wolters V (2004) Response of different decomposer communities to the manipulation of moisture availability: potential effects of changing precipitation patterns. Glob Chang Biol 10:1313–1324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. van Hees PAW, Jones DL, Jentschke G, Godbold DL (2004) Mobilization of aluminium, iron and silicon by Picea abies and ectomycorrhizas in a forest soil. Eur J Soil Sci 55:101–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Xianiu X, Hirata E (2005) Decomposition patterns of leaf litter of seven common canopy species in a subtropical forest: N and P dynamics. Plant Soil 273:279–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zelles L, Alef K (1995) Biomarkers. In: Alef K, Nannipieri P (eds) Methods in applied soil microbiology and biochemistry. Academic, London, pp 422–439Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nils Rottmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Konrad Siegfried
    • 2
  • Andreas Buerkert
    • 2
  • Rainer Georg Joergensen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Soil Biology and Plant NutritionUniversity of KasselWitzenhausenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Organic Plant Production and Agroecosystems Research in the Tropics and SubtropicsUniversity of KasselWitzenhausenGermany

Personalised recommendations