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Leaf Litter Decomposition and Nutrient-Release Characteristics of Several Willow Varieties Within Short-Rotation Coppice Plantations in Saskatchewan, Canada


Quantifying short-rotation coppice (SRC) willow leaf litter dynamics will improve our understanding of carbon (C) sequestration and nutrient cycling potentials within these biomass energy plantations and provide valuable data for model validation. The objective of this study was to quantify the decomposition rate constants (k Biomass) and decomposition limit values (LVBiomass), along with associated release rates (k Nutrient) and release limits (LVNutrient) of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) of leaf litter from several native and exotic willow varieties during an initial 4-year rotation at four sites within Saskatchewan, Canada. The k Biomass, LVBiomass, k Nutrient, and LVNutrient values varied among the willow varieties, sites, and nutrients, with average values of 1.7 year−1, 79 %, 0.9 year−1, and 83 %, respectively. Tissue N had the smallest k Nutrient and LVNutrient values, whereas tissue K and Mg had the largest k Nutrient and LVNutrient values, respectively. The leaf litter production varied among willow varieties and sites with an average biomass accumulation of 7.4 Mg ha−1 after the 4-year rotation and associated C sequestration rate of 0.2 Mg C ha−1 year−1. The average contribution of nutrients released from leaf litter decomposition during the 4-year rotation to the plant available soil nutrient pool across varieties and sites was 22, 4, 47, 10, 112, and 18 kg ha−1 of N, P, K, S, Ca, and Mg, respectively. Principal component analysis identified numerous key relationships between the measured soil, plant tissue, climate, and microclimate variables and observed willow leaf litter decomposition and nutrient-release characteristics. Our findings support the contention that SRC willow leaf litter is capable of enhancing both soil organic C levels and supplementing soil nutrient availability over time.

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k Biomass :

Decomposition rate constant

k Nutrient :

Nutrient-release rate constant


Least significant difference

LVBiomass :

Decomposition limit value

LVNutrient :

Nutrient-release limit value


Principal component analysis


Standard error


Specific leaf area


Short-rotation coppice


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The authors would like to thank the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, NSERC Strategic Grants Programme, and the International Plant Nutrition Institute for funding; B. Brewster (Grandfather), G. Harrison (Pacific Regeneration Technologies), and S. Heidinger (SaskPower) for providing the field sites; S. Hobbie, C. Stevenson, and Y. Suprayogi for assisting with the statistical analyses; B. Amichev, D. Falk, C. Fatteicher, B. Ferhatoglu, L. & R. & R. Hangs, N. Howse, J. Hyszka, D. Jackson, T. King, S. Konecsni, H. Lazorko, S. Shirtliffe, C. Stadnyk, and R. Urton for their logistical support; and, four anonymous reviewers for their critical comments and suggestions that improved the manuscript.

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Hangs, R.D., Schoenau, J.J., Van Rees, K.C.J. et al. Leaf Litter Decomposition and Nutrient-Release Characteristics of Several Willow Varieties Within Short-Rotation Coppice Plantations in Saskatchewan, Canada. Bioenerg. Res. 7, 1074–1090 (2014).

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  • Decomposition limit value
  • Decomposition rate constant
  • Principal component analysis
  • Salix
  • Specific leaf area