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Litter decomposition of woody species in shrublands of NW Patagonia: how much do functional groups and microsite conditions influence decomposition?

de Paz, Manuel, Gobbi, Miriam E., Raffaele, Estela, Buamscha, M. Gabriela
Plant ecology 2017 v.218 no.6 pp. 699-710
air, branches, canopy, carbon, carbon nitrogen ratio, dry matter content, fruits, leaf area, leaves, microclimate, nutrient content, organic matter, pH, roots, shrublands, soil, soil fertility, soil nutrients, solar radiation, temperature, water holding capacity, woody plants, Argentina
The study examined the effects of leaf traits, soil microsite, and microclimate characteristics on litter decomposition of the dominant species in two functional groups (FG), deciduous and evergreen, in shrublands in NW Patagonia, Argentina. Leaf traits considered were nutrient concentration (C, N, P, C/N, and N/P) and physical characteristics (area, strength, specific leaf area, and dry matter content). Soil microsite characteristics measured were pH, C, N, P, C/N and water retention capacity, while soil microclimate characteristics recorded were soil and air, temperature and moisture, and solar radiation. Five evergreen and five deciduous woody shrub species were selected. During 1 year, litter and microsite properties were measured below canopy: (i) senescent leaf chemical and physical properties, and the quantity as well as field decomposition of litter and (ii) soil chemistry, and soil and air physical properties. The factors controlling litter decomposition were different for each FG. In deciduous species, C/N ratio had a negative effect on decomposition. In evergreen species, decomposition was affected negatively by leaf carbon and dry matter content. Litter decomposition depended exclusively on the inherent senescent leaves traits. The common decomposition pattern between species of both FG could be attributed to similar leaf traits and the correlation between variables that control decomposition in both groups. Plant nutrient inputs associated with the litter decomposition process did not explain the soil nutrient content. These results suggest that other organic matter sources (roots, branches, and fruits) are more important than leaves on soil fertility.