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Tree species effects on litter decomposition in pure stands on afforested post-mining sites

Horodecki, Paweł, Jagodziński, Andrzej M.
Forest ecology and management 2017 v.406 pp. 1-11
Acer pseudoplatanus, Alnus glutinosa, Betula pendula, Fagus sylvatica, Pinus sylvestris, Prunus serotina, Quercus robur, Robinia pseudoacacia, afforestation, ecosystems, forest habitats, forest stands, leaves, lignite, mine spoil, plant litter, pure stands, soil formation, soil restoration, stand development, sustainable development, trees, Poland
Tree litter decomposition on disturbed post-mining sites has been mainly studied within successional gradients, whereas almost no results were shown from afforested spoil heaps. Litterfall and its decomposition rate are considered the most important ecological processes for soil restoration during stand development on such initial forest habitats. These processes allow development of a functional ecosystem and productive forest stands. Moreover, the pedogenesis process on such “soilless”’ habitats can be significantly improved and accelerated by tree species selection during afforestation.The main aim of the study was to determine litter decomposition rates of nine tree species used for afforestation of a lignite mine spoil heap. We assumed that leaf litter decomposition rates would differ among tree species studied and that the site conditions would significantly influence this process.Our study was conducted on the spoil heap of the lignite open cast mine in Bełchatów, central Poland. We studied leaf litter decomposition of Alnus glutinosa, Betula pendula, Pinus sylvestris, Quercus robur, Q. rubra and Robinia pseudoacacia in pure stands of these species (home stands), and litter decomposition of Acer pseudoplatanus, A. glutinosa, Fagus sylvatica, Prunus serotina, Q. rubra, and R. pseudoacacia in Scots pine stands. We used the litterbag method. The experiments lasted for three years and the samples were collected every three months.Leaf litter decomposition calculated for home stands after three years of decomposition was 94.4% of the initial leaf mass for A. glutinosa, 70.9% for R. pseudoacacia, 70.1% for P. sylvestris, 68.3% for B. pendula, 66.9% for Q. rubra and 61.5% for Q. robur. In Scots pine stands, after three years of the experiment, 92.3% of the initial leaf mass decomposed for P. serotina, 85.7% for A. glutinosa, 83.5% for A. pseudoplatanus, 65.2% for R. pseudoacacia, 50.9% for Q. rubra and 40.1% for F. sylvatica. A. glutinosa, R. pseudoacacia and Q. rubra leaves decomposed significantly faster in home stands than in Scots pine stands. Site aspect significantly influenced litter decomposition of the species studied, with higher rates mostly on the western slope.Our study revealed that the decision on tree species used for afforestation might shorten the period needed for soil restoration and achievement of sustainability of novel ecosystems. Proper selection of main and admixture tree species for afforestation of the post-mining sites might reduce the renewal period of the soilless and newly created habitats, which may provide noticeable ecological and economical effects during stand management.