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Litter quality and decomposability of species from a Mediterranean succession depend on leaf traits but not on nitrogen supply

Kazakou, Elena, Violle, Cyrille, Roumet, Catherine, Pintor, Cristina, Gimenez, Olivier, Garnier, Eric
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1151-1161
dry matter content, ecosystems, leaves, nitrogen, plant litter, France
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The rate of plant decomposition depends on both the decomposition environment and the functional traits of the individual species (e.g. leaf and litter quality), but their relative importance in determining interspecific differences in litter decomposition remains unclear. The aims of this study were to: (a) determine if species from different successional stages grown on soils with low and high nitrogen levels produce leaf and litter traits that decompose differently under identical conditions; and (b) assess which trait of living leaves best relates to litter quality and litter decomposability METHODS: The study was conducted on 17 herbaceous species representative of three stages of a Mediterranean successional sere of Southern France. Plants were grown in monocultures in a common garden under two nitrogen levels. To elucidate how different leaf traits affected litter decomposition a microcosm experiment was conducted to determine decomposability under standard conditions. Tests were also carried out to determine how successional stage and nitrogen supply affected functional traits of living leaves and how these traits then modified litter quality and subsequent litter decomposability. KEY RESULTS: The results demonstrated that leaf traits and litter decomposability varied according to species and successional stage. It was also demonstrated that while nitrogen addition affected leaf and litter traits, it had no effect on decomposition rates. Finally, leaf dry matter content stood out as the leaf trait best related to litter quality and litter decomposability CONCLUSIONS: In this study, species litter decomposability was affected by some leaf and litter traits but not by soil nitrogen supply. The results demonstrated the strength of a trait-based approach to predict changes in ecosystem processes as a result of species shifts in ecosystems.