, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 87–97 | Cite as

Effects of Calcium on the Rate and Extent of Litter Decomposition in a Northern Hardwood Forest

  • Gary M. LovettEmail author
  • Mary A. Arthur
  • Katherine F. Crowley


Cross-site syntheses of litter decomposition studies have shown that litter calcium (Ca) concentration may have a role in controlling the extent of decomposition of tree foliage. We used an ongoing watershed CaSiO3 addition experiment at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, USA, to test the hypotheses that increased Ca in litter would have no effect on the initial rates of litter decay but would increase the extent or completeness (limit value) of foliar litter decomposition. We tested these hypotheses with a 6-year litter decomposition experiment using foliar litter of four tree species that are prominent at this site and in the Northern Hardwood forest type of North America: sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh), American beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.), and white ash (Fraxinus americana L.). The experiment used a reciprocal transplant design with the Ca-treated watershed and a control site providing two sources of litter and two placement sites. The litter from the Ca-treated site was 10–92% higher in Ca concentration, depending on species, than the litter from the control site. After about 3 years of decomposition, the Ca concentrations in the litter reflected the placement of the litter (that is, the site in which it was incubated) rather than the source of the litter. The source of the litter had no significant effect on measures of initial decomposition rate, cumulative mass loss (6 years), or limit value. However, the placement of the litter had a highly significant effect on extent of decomposition. Some litter types responded more than others; in particular, beech litter placed in the Ca-treated site had a significantly higher limit value, indicating more complete decomposition, and maple litter in the Ca-treated site had a marginally higher limit value. These results indicate that Ca may influence the extent of litter decomposition, but it is the Ca at the incubation site rather than the initial litter Ca that matters most. The results also suggest that loss of Ca from the soil due to decades of acid deposition at this site may have impeded late-stage litter decomposition, possibly leading to greater soil C storage, especially in forest stands with a substantial component of beech. Likewise, de-acidification may lead to a reduction in soil C.


decomposition litter calcium sugar maple American beech white ash yellow birch 



We thank Jake Griffin, Brent Mellen, Millie Hamilton, Jordan Jessop, and Maggie Ward for help in the field and in the laboratory. We are grateful to Charles Driscoll and other members of the Watershed 1 experiment team at Hubbard Brook who initiated and maintained the wollastonite addition experiment, making our study possible. We thank Chris Johnson and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. This research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (Award DEB044895 and Hubbard Brook LTER program award DEB1114804) and the USDA Northeastern States Research Cooperative.

Supplementary material

10021_2015_9919_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


  1. Adair EC, Parton WJ, Del Grosso SJ, Silver WL, Harmon ME, Hall SA, Burke IC, Hart SC. 2008. Simple three-pool model accurately describes patterns of long-term litter decomposition in diverse climates. Glob Change Biol 14:2636–60.Google Scholar
  2. Austin AT, Vivanco L, Gonzalez-Arzac A, Perez LI. 2014. There’s no place like home? An exploration of the mechanisms behind plant litter- decomposer affinity in terrestrial ecosystems. New Phytol 204:307–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bailey AS, Hornbeck JW, Campbell JL, Eagar C, 2003. Hydrometeorological database for Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest: 1955-2000. General Technical Report NE-305, USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station, Newtown Square, PA.Google Scholar
  4. Battles JJ, Fahey TJ, Driscoll CT, Blum JD, Johnson CE. 2013. Restoring soil calcium reverses forest decline. Environ Sci Technol Lett 1:15–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berg B. 2000. Litter decomposition and organic matter turnover in northern forest soils. For Ecol Manage 133:13–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berg B, Berg MP, Bottner P, Box E, Breymeyer A, Deanta RC, Couteaux M, Escudero A, Gallardo A, Kratz W, Madeira M, Malkonen E, McClaugherty C, Meentemeyer V, Munoz F, Piussi P, Remacle J, Desanto AV. 1993. Litter mass-loss rates in pine forests of Europe and eastern United-States—some relationships with climate and litter quality. Biogeochemistry 20:127–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berg B, Davey MP, De Marco A, Emmett B, Faituri M, Hobbie SE, Johansson MB, Liu C, McClaugherty C, Norell L, Rutigliano FA, Vesterdal L, De Santo AV. 2010. Factors influencing limit values for pine needle litter decomposition: a synthesis for boreal and temperate pine forest systems. Biogeochemistry 100:57–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berg B, Dise N. 2004. Calculating the long-term stable nitrogen sink in northern European forests. Acta Oecol 26:15–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berg B, Ekbohm G, Johansson MB, McClaugherty C, Rutigliano F, DeSanto AV. 1996. Maximum decomposition limits of forest litter types: a synthesis. Can J Bot Rev Can Bot 74:659–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berg B, Johansson MB, Meentemeyer V. 2000. Litter decomposition in a transect of Norway spruce forests: substrate quality and climate control. Can J For Res Rev Can Rech For 30:1136–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Berg B, McClaugherty C. 2014. Plant litter: decomposition, humus formation, carbon sequestration. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cho Y, Driscoll CT, Johnson CE, Siccama TG. 2010. Chemical changes in soil and soil solution after calcium silicate addition to a northern hardwood forest. Biogeochemistry 100:3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. De Santo AV, De Marco A, Fierro A, Berg B, Rutigliano FA. 2009. Factors regulating litter mass loss and lignin degradation in late decomposition stages. Plant Soil 318:217–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fogel R, Cromack K. 1977. Effect of habitat and substrate quality on Douglas-fir litter decomposition in western Oregon. Can J Bot Rev Can Bot 55:1632–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Green MB, Bailey AS, Bailey SW, Battles JJ, Campbell JL, Driscoll CT, Fahey TJ, Lepine LC, Likens GE, Ollinger SV, Schaberg PG. 2013. Decreased water flowing from a forest amended with calcium silicate. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 110:5999–6003.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Groffman PM, Fisk MC. 2011. Calcium constrains plant control over forest ecosystem nitrogen cycling. Ecology 92:2035–42.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Groffman PM, Fisk MC, Driscoll CT, Likens GE, Fahey TJ, Eagar C, Pardo LH. 2006. Calcium additions and microbial nitrogen cycle processes in a northern hardwood forest. Ecosystems 9:1289–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Halman JM, Schaberg PG, Hawley GJ, Pardo LH, Fahey TJ. 2013. Calcium and aluminum impacts on sugar maple physiology in a northern hardwood forest. Tree Physiol 33:1242–51.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Harmon ME, Silver WL, Fasth B, Chen H, Burke IC, Parton WJ, Hart SC, Currie WS. 2009. Long-term patterns of mass loss during the decomposition of leaf and fine root litter: an intersite comparison. Glob Change Biol 15:1320–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hobbie SE, Reich PB, Oleksyn J, Ogdahl M, Zytkowiak R, Hale C, Karolewski P. 2006. Tree species effects on decomposition and forest floor dynamics in a common garden. Ecology 87:2288–97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Johnson CE, Driscoll CT, Blum JD, Fahey TJ, Battles JJ. 2014. Soil chemical dynamics after calcium silicate addition to a Northern hardwood forest. Soil Sci Soc Am J 78:1458–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Juice SM, Fahey TJ, Siccama TG, Driscoll CT, Denny EG, Eagar C, Cleavitt NL, Minocha R, Richardson AD. 2006. Response of sugar maple to calcium addition to Northern Hardwood Forest. Ecology 87:1267–80.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Kraus TEC, Dahlgren RA, Zasoski RJ. 2003. Tannins in nutrient dynamics of forest ecosystems—a review. Plant Soil 256:41–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Likens GE, Driscoll CT, Buso DC, Siccama TG, Johnson CE, Lovett GM, Fahey TJ, Reiners WA, Ryan DF, Martin CW, Bailey SW. 1998. The biogeochemistry of calcium at Hubbard Brook. Biogeochemistry 41:89–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Melillo JM, Aber JD, Muratore JF. 1982. Nitrogen and lignin control of hardwood leaf litter decomposition dynamics. Ecology 63:621–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Melvin AM, Goodale CL. 2013. Tree species and earthworm effects on soil nutrient distribution and turnover in a northeastern United States common garden. Can J For Res Rev Can Rech For 43:180–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Melvin AM, Lichstein JW, Goodale CL. 2013. Forest liming increases forest floor carbon and nitrogen stocks in a mixed hardwood forest. Ecol Appl 23:1962–75.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Minocha R, Long S, Thangavel P, Minocha SC, Eagar C, Driscoll CT. 2010. Elevation dependent sensitivity of northern hardwoods to Ca addition at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH, USA. For Ecol Manag 260:2115–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nezat CA, Blum JD, Driscoll CT. 2010. Patterns of Ca/Sr and Sr-87/Sr-86 variation before and after a whole watershed CaSiO3 addition at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, USA. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 74:3129–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Olson JS. 1963. Energy storage and the balance of producers and decomposers in ecological systems. Ecology 44:322–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Oulehle F, Evans CD, Hofmeister J, Krejci R, Tahovska K, Persson T, Cudlin P, Hruska J. 2011. Major changes in forest carbon and nitrogen cycling caused by declining sulphur deposition. Glob Change Biol 17:3115–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Petersen H, Luxton M. 1982. A comparative-analysis of soil fauna populations and their role in decomposition processes. Oikos 39:287–388.Google Scholar
  33. SAS Institute, Inc. 2004. SAS/STAT 9.1 user’s guide. SAS Institute, Cary, NC.Google Scholar
  34. Sinsabaugh RL, Gallo ME, Lauber C, Waldrop MP, Zak DR. 2005. Extracellular enzyme activities and soil organic matter dynamics for northern hardwood forests receiving simulated nitrogen deposition. Biogeochemistry 75:201–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ulrich B. 1983. A concept of forest ecosystem stability and of acid deposition as a driving force for destabilization. In: Ulrich B, Ed. Effects of accumulation of air pollutants on forest ecosystems. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing. p 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Van Soest PJ, Robertson JB, Lewis BA. 1991. Methods for dietary fiber, neutral detergent fiber and nonstarch polysaccharides in relation to animal nutrition. J Dairy Sci 74:3583–97.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Weand MP, Arthur MA, Lovett GM, McCulley RL, Weathers KC. 2010. Effects of tree species and N additions on forest floor microbial communities and extracellular enzyme activities. Soil Biol Biochem 42:2161–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary M. Lovett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mary A. Arthur
    • 2
  • Katherine F. Crowley
    • 1
  1. 1.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  2. 2.Department of ForestryUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations