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The influence of litter composition across the litter–soil interface on mass loss, nitrogen dynamics and the decomposer community
Ball, B., Y. Carrillo, AND M. Molina. The influence of litter composition across the litter–soil interface on mass loss, nitrogen dynamics and the decomposer community. SOIL BIOLOGY AND BIOCHEMISTRY. Elsevier Science Ltd, New York, NY, 69:71-82, (2014).
Published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry.
Many studies have investigated the influence of plant litter species composition on decomposition, but results have been context-dependent. Litter and soil are considered to constitute a decomposition continuum, but whether litter and soil ecosystems respond to litter identity and mixing in the same manner is unsure. In a field experiment utilizing 5 litter species and their mixture, we investigated whether the effects of litter identity and mixing on mass loss, nutrient dynamics, and decomposer communities are consistent across the litter–soil interface. In monoculture, mass loss and nitrogen (N) dynamics in the litter layer corresponded to the underlying soil N availability, demonstrating the continuum of resources from litter to soil. Litter microbial biomass and mesofauna abundance tended to be greater on litter with a faster decay rate and greater N release. However, soil decomposer abundance and diversity were not greater with higher soil N, causing litter and soil communities to respond differently to litter identity. Non-additive mass loss and N dynamics were observed after 6 months, and were correlated with non-additive litter microbial community composition and litter mesofauna communities, but all other aspects of the litter community and all measures of the soil community were additive. Decomposer communities and N dynamics did not respond similarly to the litter mixture across the litter–soil interface. This study is one of the few to comprehensively examine how a litter mixture influences decomposition dynamics and communities across the soil–litter interface, including multiple taxa and trophic levels. Our results demonstrate that processes associated with decomposition are decoupled for litter and soil, particularly in that litter showed non-additivity in mass loss, N release and decomposer community, but soil responses were largely additive.