Plant and Soil

, Volume 368, Issue 1–2, pp 519–534 | Cite as

Preferential use of root litter compared to leaf litter by beech seedlings and soil microorganisms

  • Chanjuan Guo
  • Michael Dannenmann
  • Rainer Gasche
  • Bernd Zeller
  • Hans Papen
  • Andrea Polle
  • Heinz RennenbergEmail author
  • Judy Simon
Regular Article


Background and aims

Litter decomposition is regulated by e.g. substrate quality and environmental factors, particularly water availability. The partitioning of nutrients released from litter between vegetation and soil microorganisms may, therefore, be affected by changing climate. This study aimed to elucidate the impact of litter type and drought on the fate of litter-derived N in beech seedlings and soil microbes.


We quantified 15N recovery rates in plant and soil N pools by adding 15N-labelled leaf and/or root litter under controlled conditions.


Root litter was favoured over leaf litter for N acquisition by beech seedlings and soil microorganisms. Drought reduced 15N recovery from litter in seedlings thereby affecting root N nutrition. 15N accumulated in seedlings in different sinks depending on litter type.


Root turnover appears to influence (a) N availability in the soil for plants and soil microbes and (b) N acquisition and retention despite a presumably extremely dynamic turnover of microbial biomass. Compared to soil microorganisms, beech seedlings represent a very minor short-term N sink, despite a potentially high N residence time. Furthermore, soil microbes constitute a significant N pool that can be released in the long term and, thus, may become available for N nutrition of plants.


Litter types Root litter Leaf litter Decomposition Microbial biomass Plant N metabolism Soil N pools 15N recovery 



This work was funded by the German Research Foundation / Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the framework of the Beech Research Group under contract numbers FOR 788/1, RE 515/27-1, PO 362/17-1, and DA 1217/2-1. C.G. was financially supported by a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council (no. 2007U27036). Judy Simon was financially supported by the European Social Fund and by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg. Furthermore, we thank Merle Fastenrath, Regina Wiegel and Elisabeth Zumbusch for expert assistance during the experiment.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chanjuan Guo
    • 1
  • Michael Dannenmann
    • 2
  • Rainer Gasche
    • 2
  • Bernd Zeller
    • 3
  • Hans Papen
    • 2
  • Andrea Polle
    • 4
  • Heinz Rennenberg
    • 1
    • 5
    Email author
  • Judy Simon
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Forest Botany and Tree Physiology, Chair of Tree PhysiologyUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU)Garmisch-PartenkirchenGermany
  3. 3.UR 1138, Biogéochimie des Ecosystèmes Forestiers, Biogeochemistry in Forest EcosystemsINRAChampenouxFrance
  4. 4.Büsgen-Institut, Forstbotanik und BaumphysiologieGeorg August Universität GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  5. 5.King Saud UniversityRiyadhSaudi Arabia

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