A closeup study of early beech litter decomposition: potential drivers and microbial interactions on a changing substrateReport as inadecuate

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Plant and Soil

, Volume 371, Issue 1–2, pp 139–154

First Online: 17 March 2013Received: 30 May 2012Accepted: 28 February 2013


AimsLitter decomposition and subsequent nutrient release play a major role in forest carbon and nutrient cycling. To elucidate how soluble or bulk nutrient ratios affect the decomposition process of beech Fagus sylvatica L. litter, we conducted a microcosm experiment over an 8 week period. Specifically, we investigated leaf-litter from four Austrian forested sites, which varied in elemental composition C:N:P ratio. Our aim was to gain a mechanistic understanding of early decomposition processes and to determine microbial community changes.

MethodsWe measured initial litter chemistry, microbial activity in terms of respiration CO2, litter mass loss, microbial biomass C and N Cmic and Nmic, non purgeable organic carbon NPOC, total dissolved nitrogen TDN, NH4, NO3 and microbial community composition phospholipid fatty acids – PLFAs.

ResultsAt the beginning of the experiment microbial biomass increased and pools of inorganic nitrogen N decreased, followed by an increase in fungal PLFAs. Sites higher in NPOC:TDN C:N of non purgeable organic C and total dissolved N, K and Mn showed higher respiration.

ConclusionsThe C:N ratio of the dissolved pool, rather than the quantity of N, was the major driver of decomposition rates. We saw dynamic changes in the microbial community from the beginning through the termination of the experiment.

KeywordsLeaf litter decomposition Microbial biomass Microcosm Microbial community structure analysis Microbial respiration AbbreviationsAKAchenkirch



CmicMicrobial biomass carbon

Cmic:NmicC:N microbial biomass

DOCDissolved organic carbon

dwDry weight

ECDNi-electron-capture detector

FB-ratioFungal-bacterial ratio


FIDFlame ionisation detector


KDecomposition constant



MLLitter mass loss


NmicMicrobial biomass nitrogen

NPOCNon purgeable organic carbon




PCPrincipal component

PCAPrincipal component analysis

PLFAPhospholipid fatty acid

qCO2Microbial metabolic quotient

NPOC:TDNC:N ratio of non purgeable organic C and total dissolved N

TDNTotal dissolved nitrogen

TINTotal inorganic nitrogen


Responsible Editor: Stefano Manzoni.

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Author: Christian Brandstätter - Katharina Keiblinger - Wolfgang Wanek - Sophie Zechmeister-Boltenstern

Source: https://link.springer.com/

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