Phylogenetic distances of coexisting species differ greatly within plant communities, but their consequences for decomposers and decomposition remain unknown. We hypothesized that large phylogenetic distance of leaf litter mixtures increases differences of their litter traits, which may, in turn, result in increased resource complementarity or decreased resource concentration for decomposers and hence increased or decreased chemical transformation and reduction of litter. We conducted a litter mixture experiment including 12 common temperate tree species (evolutionarily separated by up to 106 Myr), and sampled after seven months, at which average mass loss was more than 50%. We found no effect of increased phylogenetic distance on litter mass loss or on abundance and diversity of invertebrate decomposers. However, phylogenetic distance decreased microbial biomass and increased carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratios of litter mixtures. Consistently, four litter traits showed (marginally) significant phylogenetic signal and in three of these traits increasing trait difference decreased microbial biomass and increased C/N. We suggest that phylogenetic proximity of litter favours microbial decomposers and chemical transformation of litter owing to a resource concentration effect. This leads to a new hypothesis: closely related plant species occurring in the same niche should promote and profit from increased nutrient availability.
|Number of pages||9|
|Journal||Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences|
|Early online date||15 Apr 2015|
|Publication status||Published - 2015|