Home Field Advantage of Litter Decomposition in Pure and Mixed Plantations Under Boreal Climate

Abstract

Tree species influence the litter decomposition process by influencing litter quality and soil microclimate. Furthermore, over the long term, trees could promote soil communities that are particularly capable of degrading the litter they encounter most often. Thus, plant litter could decompose faster when placed in the habitat from which it was derived than in a foreign habitat, which has been termed home field advantage (HFA) of litter decomposition. In mixed-plant species environments however, it is not known whether a specific decomposer community under one tree species is affected by the presence of another tree species in the vicinity. To address this question, we tested if spruce and poplar litters showed HFA in mono-specific and in mixed species plantations under each tree species by reciprocally transplanting litter in the two plantation types. Decomposition rates, as well as the composition and ability of decomposer communities to degrade the different types of litter, were monitored during two years. Only spruce litter exhibited a faster decomposition rate at home. This HFA could be explained by higher abundance of decomposers. Furthermore, cellulose and poplar litter decomposed less or similarly in spruce plantations, suggesting that soil communities of that environment were capable of specifically degrading spruce litter. In mixed plantations, HFA was in the same direction as in mono-specific plantations, but was not as strong, indicating that HFA is sensitive to the surrounding plant community. Furthermore, this “mixed environment” had synergistic effects on decomposition rates under poplar trees. These ‘tree environment-specific’ results highlighted the possible importance of spatial distribution of each litter on decomposition rates in mixed stands. Thus, the influence of litter dispersal should be taken into account in future studies.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Line Blackburn for field assistance, Caroline Lecareux and Germain Bougnou for chemical analyses, and W.F.J. Parsons for English language correction and for his comments on the manuscript. This study was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC-CRSNG) through a Collaborative and Research Development grant awarded to Annie DesRochers. We also thank the CRSNG-UQAT-UQAM Industrial Chair in Sustainable Forest Management, the Quebec Intensive Silviculture Network and the CEF for additional support. Finally, we thank two excellent reviewers for their critical comments for the improvement of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mathilde Chomel.

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AD, MGL and VB were leaders of the project. All authors participated to the design of the study. MC performed the present study and analyzed the data. All authors contributed to the writing of the present manuscript.

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Chomel, M., Guittonny-Larchevêque, M., DesRochers, A. et al. Home Field Advantage of Litter Decomposition in Pure and Mixed Plantations Under Boreal Climate. Ecosystems 18, 1014–1028 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-015-9880-y

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Keywords

  • reciprocal transplant
  • white spruce
  • hybrid poplar
  • mites
  • springtails
  • microorganisms