Plant and Soil

, Volume 418, Issue 1–2, pp 571–579 | Cite as

Retention of dead standing plant biomass (marcescence) increases subsequent litter decomposition in the soil organic layer

  • Šárka Angst
  • Tomáš Cajthaml
  • Gerrit Angst
  • Hana Šimáčková
  • Jiří Brus
  • Jan Frouz
Regular Article



We evaluated the impact of retaining dead standing biomass (marcescence) on subsequent litter decomposition in the soil organic layer.


Litter of plants that naturally keep dead standing biomass in various extents, Calamagrostis epigeios (keeps most of its dead biomass standing), Quercus robur (keeps some dead leaves on the tree), and Alnus glutinosa (all litter falls to the ground after senescence), were either exposed to environmental climate (ambient) conditions for one year or kept in a dry dark place. After a year, both litter treatments were placed in the soil organic layer for another year. We monitored the mass loss and chemical changes during decomposition.


Changes in the chemical composition of aromatic components in C. epigeios litter and decreasing amounts of aromatic compounds in Q. robur and C. epigeios litter during exposure to ambient conditions indicate an effect of photodegradation on these compounds. The litter of Q. robur also exhibited accelerated subsequent litter decomposition in the soil organic layer. In contrast, an increase of aliphatic and aromatic compounds and a decrease of carbohydrates in A. glutinosa litter during exposure to ambient conditions rather points to leaching or microbial decay of labile compounds than an effect of photodegradation. Moreover, the subsequent decomposition of A. glutinosa litter in the soil organic layer was decelerated as compared to the unexposed litter.


Our results suggest that litter with comparably low quality (Q. robur and C. epigeios), as compared to litter with a high quality (A. glutinosa), is prone to photodegradation. This process facilitates subsequent decomposition in soil.


Photodegradation 13C CP/MAS NMR spectroscopy Litter decomposition Pyrolysis GC-MS Calamagrostis epigeios, photo-facilitation 



Analysis of variance




Cross polarization magic angle spinning


Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry




Nuclear magnetic resonance


Organic layer


Organic matter


Principal component analysis




Tetramethylammonium hydroxide





This study was supported by the grant No. P504/12/1288 from the Czech Science Foundation and funds from the team project GAJU/04-158/2016/P at the University of South Bohemia. We also thank Jitka Hubačová for help with conducting the experiment, Carsten W. Mueller from the Technical University Munich, Chair of Soil Science for the possibility to write the manuscript at his department, Veronika Jílková for reading the manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped to improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecosystem Biology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  2. 2.Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Institute of Soil Biology & SoWa RIČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  3. 3.Institute for Environmental Studies, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePragueCzech Republic
  4. 4.Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry, Academy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicPragueCzech Republic

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