Decomposition disentangled: a test of the multiple mechanisms by which nitrogen enrichment alters litter decomposition

Pichon, Noémie A.; Cappelli, Seraina; Soliveres, Santiago; Hölzel, Norbert; Klaus, Valentin H.; Kleinebecker, Till; Allan, Eric (2019). Decomposition disentangled: a test of the multiple mechanisms by which nitrogen enrichment alters litter decomposition (bioRxiv). Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory 10.1101/671545

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Nitrogen (N) enrichment has direct effects on ecosystem functioning by altering soil abiotic conditions and indirect effects by reducing plant diversity and shifting plant functional composition from dominance by slow to fast growing species. Litter decomposition is a key ecosystem function and is affected by N enrichment either by a change in litter quality (the recalcitrance of the plant material) or through a change in soil quality (the abiotic and biotic components of the soil that affect decomposition). The relative importance of soil and litter quality and how the direct and effects of N alter them remains poorly known.We designed a large grassland field experiment manipulating N enrichment, plant species richness and functional composition in a full factorial design. We used three complementary litter bag experiments and a novel structural equation modelling approach to quantify the relative effects of the treatments on litter and soil quality and their importance for total decomposition.Our results indicate that total decomposition was mostly driven by changes in litter quality rather than soil quality. Litter quality was affected by the nutrient contents (N and calcium) and structural components of the litter (leaf dry matter content, fibres). N enrichment increased litter decomposition mostly indirectly through a shift in functional composition toward faster growing plant species producing higher quality litter. N enrichment also had effects on soil, by directly and indirectly affected vegetation cover, but this had relatively few consequences for the total decomposition rate.Synthesis. Our approach provides a mechanistic tool to test the drivers of litter decomposition across different ecosystems. Our results show that functional composition is more important than richness or soil quality in determining litter decomposition and that N enrichment effects mainly occur via above- rather than belowground processes. This highlights the importance of considering shifts in plant species composition when assessing the effects of N enrichment on decomposition.

Item Type:

Working Paper

Division/Institute:

08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Biodiversity

UniBE Contributor:

Pichon, Noémie Anna; Cappelli, Seraina Lisa and Soliveres, Santiago

Subjects:

500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)

Series:

bioRxiv

Publisher:

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Language:

English

Submitter:

Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

26 Aug 2019 16:15

Last Modified:

23 Oct 2019 06:53

Publisher DOI:

10.1101/671545

BORIS DOI:

10.7892/boris.132570

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/132570

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