Effects of drought-induced forest die-off on litter decomposition
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Drought-induced forest die-off and subsequent species replacement may modify environmental conditions and eventually affect litter decomposition. We aimed to disentangle the effects of tree species and die-off state on litter decomposition in a mixed forest where Pinus sylvestris populations experiencing severe drought-induced die-off are being replaced by Quercus ilex.
Litter bags with leaves and fine roots from both species were placed under canopies representing three habitats of the die-off and replacement process (healthy and dead P. sylvestris and healthy Q. ilex). Mass was assessed over 3 years.
Species-specific chemistry of litter (C:N ratio) had a direct effect on mass loss, but also indirect effects, attributed to the decomposer microbial community associated with a given habitat-species. In their respective original habitats, oak leaves decomposed 44 % faster than pine needles, whereas oak roots decomposed 46 % slower than pine roots.
Forest die-off and species replacement affected litter decomposition. This effect can have great implications in forest functioning, particularly if drought-induced die-off worsens in the next decades, according with the trend observed in the studied system.
KeywordsLitter decomposition Forest die-off Home field advantage Carbon cycle Mediterranean forest
The authors thank I. Azcoitia, G. Barba, M. Gol and C. Recasens for help in fieldwork and sample processing, and J. Martínez-Vilalta for his valuable comments. We thank the anonymous referees for all their constructive comments and advice. This study was supported by the Spanish Government projects CGL2009-08101, CGL2010-16373, CGL2012-32965 and CGL2013-42271-P, by the Government of Catalonia grants (2009-SGR-00247 and 2014-SGR-453) and by the TRY initiative on plant traits (http://www.try-db.org). JB was supported by an FPI scholarship (BES-2010-036558) from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. JCY acknowledges the support of the “Ramon y Cajal” programme.
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