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Fertilization and litter effects on the functional group biomass, species diversity of plants, microbial biomass, and enzyme activity of two alpine meadow communities

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We conducted a field experiment in two alpine meadows to investigate the short-term effects of nitrogen enrichment and plant litter biomass on plant species richness, the percent cover of functional groups, soil microbial biomass, and enzyme activity in two alpine meadow communities. The addition of nitrogen fertilizer to experimental plots over two growing seasons increased plant production, as indicated by increases in both the living plant biomass and litter biomass in the Kobresia humilis meadow community. In contrast, fertilization had no significant effect on the amounts of living biomass and litter biomass in the K. tibetica meadow. The litter treatment results indicate that litter removal significantly increased the living biomass and decreased the litter biomass in the K. humilis meadow; however, litter-removal and litter-intact treatments had no impact on the amounts of living biomass and litter biomass in the K. tibetica meadow. Litter production depended on the degree of grass cover and was also influenced by nitrogen enrichment. The increase in plant biomass reflects a strong positive effect of nitrogen enrichment and litter removal on grasses in the K. humilis meadow. Neither fertilization nor litter removal had any impact on the grass biomass in the K. tibetica meadow. Sedge biomass was not significantly affected by either nutrient enrichment or litter removal in either alpine meadow community. The plant species richness decreased in the K. humilis meadow following nitrogen addition. In the K. humilis meadow, microbial biomass C increased significantly in response to the nitrogen enrichment and litter removal treatments. Enzyme activities differed depending on the enzyme and the different alpine meadow communities; in general, enzyme activities were higher in the upper soil layers (0–10 cm and 10–20 cm) than in the lower soil layers (20–40 cm). The amounts of living plant biomass and plant litter biomass in response to the different treatments of the two alpine meadow communities affected the soil microbial biomass C, soil organic C, and soil fertility. These results suggest that the original soil conditions, plant community composition, and community productivity are very important in regulating plant community productivity and microbial biomass and activity.

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The authors would like to thank those colleagues who helped with the fieldwork for this study. This research was performed under the auspices of the Hundred Talents Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Project 30730069 of the National Natural Science Important Foundation of China.

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Correspondence to Changting Wang.

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Responsible Editor: Wim van der Putten.



Soil enzyme activities of samples collected at different depths in two alpine meadow communities.


K. humilis meadow

K. tibetica meadow












Nitrogen (A)

0.43a (0.03)

0.20a (0.03)

0.18a (0.01)

0.27a (0.02)

0.51a (0.03)

0.08a (0.01)

0.03a (0.00)

0.21a (0.01)

No nitrogen (A)

0.23b (0.01)

0.12b (0.01)

0.11b (0.01)

0.15b (0.00)

0.49a (0.03)

0.09a (0.01)

0.03a (0.00)

0.18a (0.01)

Litter intact (A)

0.42a (0.02)

0.16b (0.02)

0.12b (0.01)

0.24a (0.02)

0.44a (0.03)

0.09a (0.01)

0.03a (0.01)

0.19a (0.01)

Litter removal (A)

0.21b (0.02)

0.20a (0.02)

0.17a (0.01)

0.20b (0.00)

0.46a (0.04)

0.08a (0.01)

0.03a (0.00)

0.19a (0.01)

Nitrogen (B)

7.49a (0.52)

5.43a (0.26)

5.81a (0.14)

6.24a (0.28)

1.11a (0.03)

0.82a (0.04)

0.75a (0.05)

0.89a (0.04)

No nitrogen (B)

5.91b (0.53)

3.90b (0.12)

3.01b (0.25)

4.27b (0.19)

1.08a (0.01)

0.90a (0.01)

0.78a (0.02)

0.92a (0.01)

Litter intact (B)

7.32a (0.02)

5.61a (0.55)

4.63a (0.44)

5.89a (0.28)

1.01a (0.13)

0.79a (0.07)

0.69a (0.08)

0.83a (0.03)

Litter removal (B)

5.32b (0.31)

3.73b (0.11)

2.97b (0.06)

4.01b (0.13)

0.99a (0.09)

0.75a (0.04)

0.67a (0.03)

0.81a (0.03)

Nitrogen (C)

0.86a (0.10)

0.26a (0.03)

0.06a (0.01)

0.39a (0.04)

0.60a (0.10)

0.53a (0.03)

0.13a (0.02)

0.42a (0.03)

No nitrogen (C)

0.52b (0.02)

0.10b (0.02)

0.08a (0.01)

0.23b (0.01)

0.57a (0.04)

0.51a (0.05)

0.13a (0.02)

0.40a (0.03)

Litter intact (C)

0.87a (0.01)

0.44a (0.03)

0.32a (0.04)

0.54a (0.01)

0.63a (0.05)

0.55a (0.03)

0.13a (0.02)

0.43a (0.02)

Litter removal (C)

0.53b (0.03)

0.13b (0.02)

0.09b (0.03)

0.25b (0.01)

0.61a (0.02)

0.51a (0.04)

0.13a (0.02)

0.42a (0.02)

Nitrogen (D)

15.99a (3.72)

9.52a (2.86)

5.43a (1.23)

10.31a (1.93

0.65a (0.04)

0.54a (0.03)

0.47a (0.04)

0.55a (0.02)

No nitrogen (D)

12.03b (1.43)

5.49b (0.86)

4.20b (0.70)

7.24b (0.61)

0.61a (0.04)

0.51a (0.06)

0.47a (0.05)

0.53a (0.02)

Litter intact (D)

15.79a (1.11)

8.36a (1.85)

5.43a (0.33)

9.86a (0.63)

0.65a (0.02)

0.52a (0.05)

0.43a (0.05)

0.53a (0.02)

Litter removal (D)

12.39b (1.47)

5.96b (2.12)

2.43b (0.80)

6.92b (0.89)

0.63a (0.04)

0.56a (0.01)

0.47a (0.04)

0.56a (0.02)

  1. Data in the table indicate the mean values over 3 years: (A) Urease (mg NH4-N/g); (B) Protease (mg Tyr/g); (C) Alkali Phosphatase (mg phenol/g); and (D) Invertase (mg glucose/g). Numbers in parentheses indicate standard deviations; n = 6. At the same depth of different treatments for each community, values with the same letters are not significantly different (P > 0.05).

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Wang, C., Long, R., Wang, Q. et al. Fertilization and litter effects on the functional group biomass, species diversity of plants, microbial biomass, and enzyme activity of two alpine meadow communities. Plant Soil 331, 377–389 (2010).

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