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Early-stage changes in natural 13C and 15N abundance and nutrient dynamics during different litter decomposition

Abstract

Decomposition, nutrient, and isotopic (δ13C and δ15N) dynamics during 1 year were studied for leaf and twig litters of Pinus densiflora, Castanea crenata, Erigeron annuus, and Miscanthus sinensis growing on a highly weathered soil with constrained nutrient supply using litterbags in a cool temperate region of South Korea. Decay constant (k/year) ranged from 0.58 to 1.29/year, and mass loss ranged from 22.36 to 58.43 % among litter types. The results demonstrate that mass loss and nutrient dynamics of decomposing litter were influenced by the seasonality of mineralization and immobilization processes. In general, most nutrients exhibited alternate phases of rapid mineralization followed by gradual immobilization, except K, which was released throughout the field incubation. At the end of study, among all the nutrients only N and P showed net immobilization. Mobility of different nutrients from decomposing litter as the percentage of initial litter nutrient concentration was in the order of K > Mg > Ca > N ≈ P. The δ13C (0.32–6.70 ‰) and δ15N (0.74–3.90 ‰) values of residual litters showed nonlinear increase and decrease, respectively compared to initial isotopic values during decomposition. Litter of different functional types and chemical quality converged toward a conservative nutrient use strategy through mechanisms of slow decomposition and slow nutrient mobilization. Our results indicate that litter quality and season, are the most important regulators of litter decomposition in these forests. The results revealed significant relationships between litter decomposition rates and N, C:N ratio and P, and seasonality (temperature). These results and the convergence of different litters towards conservative nutrient use in these nutrient constrained ecosystems imply optimization of litter management because litter removal can have cascading effects on litter decomposition and nutrient availability in these systems.

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Acknowledgments

This works was supported by a National Agenda Program (NAP) of the National Research Council of Science and Technology and partly by a Korea Basic Science Institute (KBSI) Grant (C34701). The authors are also thankful to Jehyeong Yeon for his unconditional support in fieldwork and data collection, and Mi-Ran Na and Seonhye Lee for isotope analysis. Authors are also thankful to Jong-Sik Ryu for his assistance in arranging the facilities for isotope analysis. Authors extend their thankfulness to two anonymous reviewers who helped in improving manuscript with their constructive comments.

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Correspondence to Kwang-Sik Lee.

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Gautam, M.K., Lee, KS., Song, BY. et al. Early-stage changes in natural 13C and 15N abundance and nutrient dynamics during different litter decomposition. J Plant Res 129, 463–476 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10265-016-0798-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10265-016-0798-z

Keywords

  • Carbon isotope
  • Cool temperate secondary forest
  • Decay rate
  • Litter decomposition
  • Litter nutrient chemistry
  • Nitrogen isotope