Litter nitrogen concentration changes mediate effects of drought and plant species richness on litter decomposition

Jiang Wang, Yuan Ge, Johannes H.C. Cornelissen, Xiao Yan Wang, Song Gao, Yi Bai, Tong Chen, Zhong Wang Jing, Chong Bang Zhang, Wen Li Liu, Jun Min Li, Fei Hai Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Biodiversity loss, exotic plant invasion and climatic change are three important global changes that can affect litter decomposition. These effects may be interactive and these global changes thus need to be considered simultaneously. Here, we assembled herbaceous plant communities with five species richness levels (1, 2, 4, 8 or 16) and subjected them to a drought treatment (no, moderate or intensive drought) that was factorially combined with an invasion treatment (presence or absence of the non-native Symphyotrichum subulatum). We collected litter of these plant communities and let it decompose for 9 months in the plant communities from which it originated. Drought decreased litter decomposition, while invasion by S. subulatum had little impact. Increasing species richness decreased litter decomposition except under intensive drought. A structural equation model showed that drought and species richness affected litter decomposition indirectly through changes in litter nitrogen concentration rather than by altering quantity and diversity of soil meso-fauna or soil physico-chemical properties. The slowed litter decomposition under high species diversity originated from a sampling effect, specifically from low litter nitrogen concentrations in the two dominant species. We conclude that effects on litter decomposition rates that are mediated by changing concentrations of the limiting nutrient in litter need to be considered when predicting effects of global changes such as plant diversity loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-518
Number of pages12
JournalOecologia
Volume198
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks for helpful comments by the professor Pascal A. Niklaus and two anonymous reviewers; and to Peter Alpert for text editing. We gratefully acknowledge funding by the NSFC (31870504, 41671254, 31761123001), Taizhou University National Funds for Distinguished Young Scientists (2017JQ005, 2019JQ005), the Natural Science Foundation of Zhejiang Province, China (LY22C030001), and the Ten-Thousand Talent Program of Zhejiang Province (2018R52016).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.

Keywords

  • Dominant species
  • Exotic plant
  • Global change
  • Invasion
  • Litter traits

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