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Tree species diversity modulates the effects of fungal pathogens on litter decomposition: evidences from an incubation experiment

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Litter decomposition is a major determinant of carbon (C) and nutrient cycling in ecosystems, and contributes to soil organic carbon (SOC) formation. Ongoing global changes are exacerbating biodiversity loss, potentially elevating foliar fungal pathogen infections and consequently impacting litter quality and quantity. However, the potential interplay between biodiversity loss and fungal pathogen infection on litter decomposition and SOC formation remains largely unknown.

Methods

We collected leaf litter with different fungal pathogen infection levels across various tree species richness (TSR) stands within a subtropical forest biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiment in China. We conducted a 383-day incubation experiment using these litter samples and measured initial litter quality, litter mass loss, and incubation-induced changes in mineral-associated soil C and nitrogen (N).

Results

We found that litter from higher richness plots exhibited lower N concentration and higher carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N). Moreover, TSR exerted control over the effects of fungal pathogen infection on litter quality, decomposition, and N turnover. Under higher richness, litter with higher fungal infection levels tended to have higher N concentration and lower C:N, thus leading to faster decomposition rates and more soil N loss. Meanwhile, litter with elevated fungal infection levels contributed more to litter C retained in soil.

Conclusions

Our findings indicate that changes in litter chemistry and fungal pathogen infection rates induced by biodiversity loss could affect decomposition and the extent of C stabilized in soil, highlighting the significance of considering fungal pathogen infection in studies related to biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles.

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Data will be made available on request.

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Acknowledgements

This study was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (32330066, 32125025, 31988102), and is part of the International Research Training Group TreeDì jointly funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – 319936945/GRK2324 and the University of Chinese Academy of Science (UCAS). We thank BEF-China and Zhejiang Qianjiangyuan Forest Biodiversity National Observation and Research Station for permission to use the field site, and Jinxiang Chen and the local field assistants for indispensable aid in the field work.

Funding

This study was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (32330066, 32125025, 31988102), and is part of the International Research Training Group TreeDì jointly funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – 319936945/GRK2324 and the University of Chinese Academy of Science (UCAS).

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

Lingli Liu and Lulu Guo contributed to the study conception and design. Rémy Beugnon provided the experiment material. Lulu Guo, Helge Bruelheide and Mariem Saadani contributed to the Methodology. Lulu Guo, Pengfei Chang, Meifeng Deng, Sen Yang participated in field experiment. Lulu Guo, Lu Yang, Ziyang Peng, Zhenghua Wang, Zhou Jia, Bin Wang, Chao Liu performed the lab experiments. Lulu Guo analyzed the data. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Lulu Guo and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lingli Liu.

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The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.

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Guo, L., Chang, P., Deng, M. et al. Tree species diversity modulates the effects of fungal pathogens on litter decomposition: evidences from an incubation experiment. Plant Soil (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-024-06780-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-024-06780-x

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